Eek, the Gift-Giving Holidays Are Here!

Much as I hate to admit it, this year’s almost done. It’s almost time for the gift-giving holidays. So, I thought picture and chapter books would fit the bill. I’ll mention older kids books next week.

 

BUT, I also have to mention that my 2nd novel, Emily’s Ride to Courage is, as of today, live on Kindle! “Over the Moon, Alice,” as Ralph used to say in the Honeymooners TV show. I know, I know, he was threatening her bodily harm, but I’m just going to jump that high. It will be out in paper back next Friday through Amazon.

 

It’s always a pleasure to read one of Mr. Smith’s books. His illustrations are quite charming and intriguing.

 

A Perfect Day

Lane Smith

Illustrated by Lane Smith

Mr. Smith’s beautifully carries along this story about a perfect day. But is the day the same for all the creatures enjoying it? Cat thinks it’s pretty because the sun is shining and the daffodils are blooming. Dog likes the day because it’s warm and he cools off the wading pool that’s been filled for him by Bert. Chickadee is happy because the bird feeder is full, thanks to Bert. Squirrel, on the other hand, is not as happy because his way to the seed is blocked. Never mind, he finds the corn on the cob that’s been dropped for him by Bert. Uh oh! Here comes the bear, who turns everybody’s perfect day into a not so perfect day. He eats the corn left for squirrel, and bends the birdfeeder pole to get to Chickadee’s seed, and dumps Dog’s wading pool water all over his big brown body. Then he rolls through the flower bed and squishes Cat’s daffodils. Which makes it a perfect day for Bear. Inspired by the loss of a friend, and a bear that visits Lane’s back yard, the book is bound to get lots of readings by children and their readers.

BIBLIO: 2017 (orig.,) Roaring Brook Press/Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings, Ages 3 to 6, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978162625362

 

 

I found the information about Ragdoll cats interesting. An ex-sister-in-law has two of them and she had tried to explain them to me, but this is a much better description.

 

Adventures at Tabby Towers: Disappearing Darcy

Shelley Swanson Sateren

Illustrated by Deborah Melmon

Part of series about a cat hotel, for cats whose families are going on a trip without them, this story features a Ragdoll cat named Darcy. Ragdolls are large, passive cats that will flop like a ragdoll when held. They are very affectionate and loyal to their humans. Darcy is very unhappy staying at Tabby Towers, because his special friend, Joy, is in the hospital for heart surgery and he’s not allowed to be with her. Joy is unhappy because she’s frightened and doesn’t have Darcy to comfort her. Tabitha Catarina Felinus a.k.a. Tabby Cat is granddaughter to the Tabby Towers owners and loves staying there when she can. She’s worried about Darcy because he won’t stop crying, even though she’s giving him extra attention. Darcy escapes and runs back to his owners’ house in the rain, where Tabby Cat and her grandmother find him. They sneak him in to see Joy and of course the nurses find that Joy’s much calmer holding her beloved Darcy, so they let him stay for a while. There are several lessons about cats and their behaviors gently taught in this book and human behaviors are also hinted at. Nice, sweet read beginning readers will enjoy.

BIBLIO: 2018, Picture Window Books/A Capstone Imprint, Ages 6 to 8, $25.32.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Chapter Book

ISBN: 978-1-5158-1546-4

ISBN: 978-1-5158-1550-1

ISBN: 978-1-5158-1554-9

 

This a part of series that always starts with “Come Home Already.” The characters are well depicted.

 

Come Home Already!

Jory John

Illustrated by Benji Davies

Duck wakes up to another glorious morning which he plans to enjoy with his friend Bear. But Bear has gone fishing and he didn’t invite Duck! Can’t be! Bear, however, is quite happy to be off by himself for a change. Duck, on the other hand, is not thrilled with the idea. What’s he to do by himself? He doesn’t want read or paint or cook or play his drums or watch a movie. He misses his friend. Bear, on the other hand, is not doing as well as he planned. He can’t set his tent up, and it starts to rain, and he doesn’t catch any fish. In the meantime, Duck decides to look for bear. Bear is now scared how that it’s dark and he hears noises. The noise is, of course, Duck who helps set up his tent and set things right in his camp. Bear is glad to see him and admits he missed him. After a restful night, the two friends head home. But Bear sighs when Duck says he’ll always be by his friend’s side. Sweet story about friends and when to be quiet.

BIBLIO: 2017, Harper Collins Children’s Books/Harper Collins Publishers, Ages 4 to 8, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-0-06-237097-6

 

 

 

Remembering Past Books

These books have a bit of age on them, but you can probably find them in your library. Though the first two have some flaws in them, they’re still worth reading and the characters are endearing.

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Allie has her flaws as we all do, but she’s a likeable kid.

Allie Finkle’s Rules for Girls: Blast from the Past

Meg Cabot

Allie is now in fourth grade at a new school and trying to prove herself responsible enough to own a cell phone—after all she’s saved a total of $36 from doing chores and helping her neighbors. Her parents say the rule is she could have her own cell phone in sixth grade, if she’s proved herself responsible by not losing things or not leaving her coat and book bag on the floor. Two whole years away! Plus, she has other things to worry about: her cat, Mewsie, is hiding in a hole in the wall of her brother’s room; her wonderful teacher is probably getting married and moving away; and she has to go on a boring field trip and share the bus with the kids from her old school—including her ex-best friend, Mary Kate, who is now hanging out with the snobby “cool” girls. Turns out the field trip isn’t as boring as Allie thought; her teacher is getting married, but not moving; Mary Kate is now her friend again, sort of; Mewsie leaves the hole on his own; and Mom says Allie may have cell phone in fifth grade. Allie is a spunky girl and her antics are amusing, but she sure is repetitive. I’m not sure we readers need to be reminded in each chapter of how obnoxious Mary Kate has been, or that Allie’s teacher’s boyfriend threw rocks at the school window, or that Allie missed going on the last field trip because of Mary Kate, but the story does have merit.

BIBLIO: 2010, Scholastic Press/Scholastic, Inc., Ages 7 to 9, $15.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-0-545-04048-8

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I reviewed an earlier book in this series, so I was not eager to review another. But Amy’s character has grown on me. I’ve always wondered if another of this series has come out.

Ask Amy Green: Bridesmaid Blitz

Sarah Webb

Another installment in the “Ask Amy Green” series takes Amy and Clover—her teen-aged aunt—on a shopping trip to Paris to pick out clothes for Amy’s mother’s upcoming wedding. Amy is a little less self-centered in this book than she has been in the past. She’s still unhappy with the new mates her parents, Sylvie and Art, have picked, but is beginning to have some sympathy for Dave, her step-dad to be. Her dad’s pregnant new wife, Shelly, is very high maintenance. Amy’s mother is feeling overwhelmed by the wedding Clover is planning for her and keeps pleading that she just wants a simple, inexpensive ceremony. Clover plots to surprise Sylvie with a trip to Paris. When Amy is finally told about the trip, she plans how she’s going to surprise her boyfriend, Seth, who is there on a school trip. In the meantime, Seth’s mother is being tested to see if her breast cancer has reoccurred or spread and the tests results are due back when Seth is supposed to be away. Now he doesn’t want to go. Dave, who is a nurse at the local hospital, comes to the rescue and asks the doctor to put a rush on the tests. To add to the tension, Shelly’s domineering mother comes to stay indefinitely, but Amy’s the one who helps Shelly through labor when the baby comes early. Amy rightfully feels left out after her new brother is born, with Art and Shelly not including her in the new family circle. Her insensitive dad finally comes to his senses though and Amy begins to bond with her youngest sibling. The next installment will undoubtedly focus on Sylvie’s cold feet about her impending wedding.

BIBLIO: 2012, Candlewick Press, Ages 12 +, $6.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-7636-5157-2

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I can still remember the drawings in this book. It’s a charmer, especially with the message that we don’t all have to be the same.

The Geese March in Step

Jean-François Dumont

Illustrated by Jean-François Dumont

Originally published in French, this book is a charmer about not marching in lock step just because it’s always been that way. Igor, the lead goose on the farm, insists that all the geese march at his tempo on the daily parade to the pond. He is most distraught when Zita, the newest goose to the gaggle, adds a different beat to the cadence. He kicks her out of the goose parade. At first she’s sad and lonely, but soon the woodpecker and rooster, donkey and cow, sheep and pigs, turkey and frog, plus all the other creatures on the farm, add new beats to Zita’s walk. When the new parade arrives at the pond with its unique sound, Igor is out numbered. From then on, Igor marches his regimented beat to the pond all by himself, but everyone else waits to see what Zita’s beat might prompt them to do. The amusing illustrations add to the off beat tone of this story. Children will enjoy adding their own sounds to the “Parade-to-the-Pond” music. And parents will love the message.

BIBLIO: 2014 (orig. 2007,) Eerdmans Books for Young Readers/Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Ages 4 to 8, $16.00.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-0-8028-5443-8

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As I age, I need to remind myself that getting older doesn’t mean I’m not as good as I was. Who knows, maybe I’m even getting better on some fronts. At least I’m able to let other people cook in my kitchen, even though my golf game stinks. And though I still can’t sing a lick, my writing improves all the time.

Happy Halloween

Oh boy, Halloween is here again! Do you remember planning your costume and going door to door with your friends? How much candy you got! Since my mother decided we got too much candy, she told us we could come back half way through our rounds of our small town and leave what we’d collected so our sacks wouldn’t get too heavy. Innocents that we were, we’d come back and unload. Mother, of course, would give out that candy to kids visiting our house. We never missed the candy. This was back in the 1950s when it was safe to accept homemade goodies. Perhaps it still is, but we’ve lost our faith in each other’s goodness.

The boys in our town, when they got too old to dress up and collect candy would make mischievous instead. A favorite was to see who could ring the town hall bell without getting caught.

My husband and his friends, being farm boys, one time dismantled a neighbor’s hay wagon and reassembled it on his roof. Strangely enough they didn’t wake him up. Of course the neighbor did discover the culprits who then had to take the wagon off the roof.

Still, most of us learned our lessons and survived our brashness to become useful members of society.

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Of course if it’s a Kate DiCamillo book it’s going to be good. This one is quite amusing.

Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon

Kate DiCamillo

Illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

Francine Poulet comes from a long line of animal control officers. The forty-seven awards she’s won prove how good she is at her job. She knows no fear whether confronting a bear or a mouse. When she gets a call about a “ghost” raccoon, with great confidence she sets out to round the critter up. Alas Francine meets her match! The raccoon screams her name. Not her usual name, Francine, but the pet name her father called her, Franny. How does that coon know her seldom-used nickname? At first Francine doesn’t realize she feels fear thumping in her heart. But when she does recognize fear, she is mortified. She grabs the raccoon, slips on her ladder and plummets three stories down to the ground and wakes up in the hospital with a broken arm and a broken leg. Eventually she recovers, promptly quits her animal control officer job and takes a job as a cashier at a bait and tackle store. One day a boy named Frank and his sister Stella come in looking for sweets to buy. Well, any knowledgeable person knows a store named Clyde’s Bait, Feed, Tackle and Animal Necessities doesn’t carry sweets, but Stella wants to be sure. Frank recognizes Francine and encourages her to get her courage back by capturing the raccoon. Ms. DiCamillo’s writing is always full of wry humor which inspires illustrators to go for the funny. This is Volume 2 of the “Tales from Deckawoo Drive.”

BIBLIO: 2015, Candlewick Press, Ages 6 to 9, $12.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Chapter Book

ISBN: 978-0-7636-6886-0

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Did you ever carve a pumpkin? Or draw a scary face on one? It takes a while, but that’s what happens to this pumpkin.

Little Boo

Stephen Wunderli

Illustrated by Tim Zeltner

A seed wants to be scary, but when he says Boo to a falling leaf, the leaf tells him he’s not scary at all. A grub is too busy to pay attention to the seed and when the snow flakes silently settle around him, they ask why the many of them should be afraid of the one of him. The wind comforts him, telling him to be patient, and covers him with soil to keep him warm. So Little Boo sleeps through the winter dreaming of saying Boo. Finally, the air and soil warm up and the seed sends up green shoots to feel the warmth. As he grows, he tries to scare an old boot and then a shovel and finally a watering can, but they all ignore him. So the sprout keeps growing and the wind encourages him, though the water bucket, the bees and the grasshopper blink not an eye when our growing sprout says boo. The not so little sprout grows floppy orange flowers which turn into fruit. The fruit all start small and green, but one swells much bigger than the others and is picked by hands which carry Little Boo into a house where the once seed becomes a jack o’lantern. Then his BOO is big enough to scare the cat and the ghosts and goblins. This is a nicely told story about waiting for your dreams to come true and it’s a clever way to introduce children to the cycle of life for plants.

BIBLIO: 2014, Henry Holt and Company, LLC, Ages 3 to 6, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9708-5

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9709-2

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I’m a firm believer in ghosts having felt them around me. “Yeah, sure Sarah,” you say with a snort and snigger. It’s true. Last winter I was in an old building that is now a restaurant, waiting for the rest of our group to join me and my friend. The door to the room was on my left and the windows looking over the street were to my right. My friend was sitting at right angles to me so she could see behind me. I felt a man come in through the doorway, walk behind me—the sound of his hurrying foot steps thumping in my ears—and then I saw him walk to the windows, do something and then head back out the door. He had on dark trousers and a yellow plaid vest. After he was gone, I asked my friend if a man had just been in the room. With a frown on her face, she said, “No, it’s only the two of us.” When I told our waiter what I’d seen, he said, “Oh yes, we have several ghosts.”

The Unsolved Mystery of Haunted Houses

Katherine Krohn

Are the noises and electrical glitches in old houses caused by ghosts? The little boy who fell down the well two hundred years ago wants to get out? The murdered grandfather who left his wealth to a library seeks revenge on his heirs? Maybe the old woman whose only happiness was as a small child living in the house? Or could it be the house is just old and its bones creak the way an old person’s do? Or perhaps the electrical system needs updating? The author touches very briefly on such phenomena and also points out that not all “haunted” houses are old. One of the old ones—old for the United States—is the President’s home, the White House in Washington, DC. Ghost and haunted houses have been a topic of conversation for centuries. The ones mentioned in this book are the Edinburgh Castle in Scotland and the Borley Rectory in England. There are actually people who, with many gadgets like thermometers and tape recorders, research instances of haunting. Most of the time the researchers find natural causes such as the inherent creakiness of a house contracting in the winter. The book has a number of interesting facts, but the “True or False?” sidebars are confusing in many instances. The introduction of vocabulary words is done nicely and the book makes for a fun Halloween discussion of scary things.

BIBLIO: 2014, Capstone Press/Capstone, Ages 6 to 8, $24.65.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Chapter Book

ISBN: 978-1-4765-3097-0

ISBN: 978-1-4765-3428-2

ISBN: 978-1-4765-3442-8

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Happy Halloween to you all and don’t eat too much candy.

The next day, November 1st, which some people call “All Saints Day,” was my brother Bill’s birthday and, being the obnoxious younger sister, I would always say he should have been born the day before because he was most decidedly not a saint.

Love, Does It Conquer All?

Love comes in many forms and our actions/reactions to the feelings are complex, to say the least. So let’s review three books that show different reactions to love. One of the stories is indeed adorable and makes me wish I had a baby to cuddle. To smell the sweet and sour aromas of one so young and listen to the gentle breathing sounds of a baby paying attention and feel the softness of a baby’s skin and hair. Or to feel the squirmy attention of a toddler who wants to hear the story, but has a hard time sitting still.

Another of the stories has to do with trying for redemption and righting past wrongs.

And the third story is about finding love and forgivness as a teenager. I think most of us have experienced all three types of love. Enjoy.

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Some of the books I review leave me pretty much cold, but they all have some merit to them, especially the message of being careful what you wish for. This isn’t one of my favorites. Still, it is worth a mention.

Broken Hearts, Fences and Other Things to Mend

Katie Finn

Gemma Tucker did horrible things to Hallie, a girl her age, when she spent the summer of her eleventh year with her father in the Hamptons. Now sixteen, she has regretted her behavior ever since, but doesn’t know what to do to make amends. She thinks she has her summer plans in place to go to South America to help her boyfriend do good deeds in Columbia. But then her boyfriend breaks up with her and her mother and stepfather have already made plans to go to salmon spawning grounds in Scotland and will stay with a laird in his castle. Now her options are to go with Mom and Walter or brave the Hamptons with her dad in hopes that Hallie and family are not there. Of course, they are and she masquerades as her best friend, Sophie, thinking she can show how sorry she is. She falls for Hallie’s brother, Josh. But things start to go wrong almost immediately and when the real Sophie shows up during a party at Hallie’s house, Gemma is in a pickle. She and Hallie have a huge fight in which Hallie triumphantly announces her involvement in all of Gemma’s problems that summer. The crowning glory is Hallie’s having snagged Gemma’s boyfriend. This book doesn’t gel well. Although, there is much interaction between Gemma and her dad, the reader never hears much about Hallie and Josh’s mother. Last Gemma had known, their mother was in total disgrace from Gemma’s actions five years earlier, but now the family is living high on the hog. No explanation is ever given. The good news is not all the kids drink and there don’t seem to be wild sex orgies.

BIBLIO: 2014, Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan, Ages 12 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-250-04524-9

ISBN: 978-1-250-06057-0

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This picture book, googly eyes and all, will have you giggling, along with oohing and aahing, all the way through. Though more realistic drawings would me happy. I not the biggest fan of Disney heavy reliance on cutesy.  I, for instance, find the original drawings in Winnie the Poo, much more appealing.  But, hey, I’m an elderly lady who was raised by a wonderful snob.

Next to You

Lori Haskins Houran

Illustrated by Sydney Hanson

The subtitle of this book, “A Book of Adorableness,” gives the reader a clue to the googley-eyed cuteness of the illustrations. The animals are recognizable as what species they belong to, though drawing smaller eyes would work just as well. But the message of the story is sweet and sure to make any child feel special and loved. Generally speaking, baby animals are cute and look oh so cuddly. Have you ever seen a new born lamb? How cute can cute be? Have you ever watched a puppy play with her brother? Or a giraffe baby trying to get to his feet? It’s hard enough for a human baby to stand up, but try standing up when you don’t even really know how and you’re only an hour old. But the babies’ mommas are there to help and to feed them. And it is tempting to want to pet any baby. However, the best baby to pet and cuddle is your baby. The author singles out puppies, kitty cats, ducklings, squirrels, chicks, a piglet and a monkey, along with the giraffe and agrees they’re all beyond adorable, but they don’t hold a candle to the child who’s having the book read to her. Children will want to have this book read to them over and over, just so they can giggle and feel safe when their mommas or daddies give them big hugs at the end.

BIBLIO: 2016, Albert Whitman and Company, Ages 2 to 6, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-0-8075-5600-9

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The final book of my reviews is a knock-out. There is a bit of mystery in it and the characters are very believable. The main character has a lot growing to do and she succeeds well, learning many life lessons along the way.

Tell Me Three Things

Julie Buxbaum

Jessie A. Holmes moves to Los Angeles because her widowed father marries a rich woman, also widowed, who lives there with her son, Theo. Not only has Jessie now lost her mother, she’s lost all she’s known her whole life. Of course she finds her new “parent” to be impossible and calls her the “stepmonster.” To make matters worse, she is enrolled in a very ritzy, pretentious school full of snobby kids. And the “Queen Bees” are out to get her, especially when she becomes friends with the main Bee’s boyfriend. But then an anonymous person starts emailing her using the screen name of Somebody/Nobody or SN for short. He becomes her refuge and helps her find friends at the new school. She resists adapting to her new life and is not on speaking terms with her dad, much less the step members of her supposed family. Slowly, she makes her way into her new situation and begins find things in common with Theo. But she keeps wondering who SN really is and becomes closer and closer to him through their email exchanges. Of course to make things more complex, she falls for Ethan who is mysterious and her English class partner on writing a paper about an epic poem. In the end, she realizes that the “stepmonster” really isn’t all that bad and she does make friends with at least two girls. You’ll have to read the book to figure out who SN really is. The book is nicely written and the suspense of finding out who SN is keeps the reader going. In addition to the usual themes of bullying and adjusting to new places, the book lends itself to discussions of literature and poetry.

BIBLIO: 2016, Delacorte Press/Random House Children’s Books/Penguin Random House LLC, Ages 14 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-553-53564-8

ISBN: 978-0-553-53565-5

ISBN: 978-0-553-53566-2

ISBN: 978-0-399-55293-9

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I hope you enjoy my choices and comments.  Please tell me love stories from your life. I’d love to read them.  Thanks for reading my blog.  Sarah Maury Swan, author of Terror’s Identity