Are You Looking for Books to Buy?

Okay, here are some books that would NOT make my list for Christmas gifts. There are way too many gifted writers floating around who can encourage readers to aspire to not being just like everybody else. I like the books I read to not fit into formulas and I like the drawings to have some spark of originality.

These don’t, but then, I am a snob and on the arrogant side.

 

Dork Diaries: Tales from the Not-So-Secret Crush Catastrophe

Rachel Rene Russell

Talk about encouraging kids to be vapid, these books do just that. This is twelfth book in the series. Why should eighth-grade girls be portrayed as dorks because they are interested in things other than clothes and makeup? And do young girls really wear high-heeled shoes to school? This book is not to my taste, but then I’m old. Still, the storyline is the old, but useful, lesson for teens and preteens to read. The energy level is high and the story does have a few surprises. This time, Nikki is Student Ambassador for an exchange student from the snobby school in their district. Of course, the exchange student turns out to be a good-looking boy from France who shares a lot of Nikki’s interests. Things get complicated when Nikki spends more time with Andr than she does with her friends and potential boyfriend, who is also a friend, all of whom are expecting her help on special projects. Of course, the mean girls, who seem to hate Nikki, mess things up for her, but she learns some lessons on priorities and saying the hard things first.

BIBLIO: 2017, ALADDIN/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division/Simon & Schuster, $13.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-1-5344-0560-8

ISBN: 978-1-5344-0561-5

 

Why do people seem to think that girls must be in relationships? Why are they always urged to be part of someone else’s persona?

 

My New Crush Gave to Me

Shani Petroff

Charlie is not looking forward to Christmas and especially Noelle’s annual Christmas bash, which has always been a favorite thing about the holiday. But Noelle has decided this year’s theme is about love and dating. Charlie’s boyfriend is no longer in the picture, so she is dateless and doesn’t have a clue how to correct that. But she soon discovers Theo, the hottest guy in school and a football star at that. Plus, he’s very smart and punctual, which are very important traits in her book. So, she sets about to nab him for the party, with the help of her best friend, Morgan, and Theo’s cousin, J.D., Morgan’s neighbor. After much finagling, Charlie gets to know Theo, but she also gets to know J.D., who is sensitive and creative and kind, but always late, which drives Charlie nuts. As we all do, Charlie puts people into niches and decides that J.D. must be messy at home since he’s always late. She also decides that Theo must be neat because he likes to be on time. Of course, Charlie discovers that J.D. really is the guy for her. There’s a bit of Cyrano de Bergerac in the story, because the fellow who is really appealing to Charlie is J.D. by actually being her creative “Secret Santa,” rather than Theo, who has not a creative bone in his body. Charlie is a bit too formulaic, in my opinion, however there are possibilities for classroom discussions about outward appearances not being as important as inner qualities.

BIBLIO: 2017, A Swoon Reads Book/Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan Publishing Group, Ages 14+, $10.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-250-13032-7

ISBN: 978-1-250-13051-8

 

 

I do tire of formulaic stories designed to follow cartoons or movies. This one fits the bill to perfection, in my view.

 

Spy Toys

Mark Powers

Illustrated by Tim Wesson

At Snaztacular Ultrafun toy manufacturing all the toys are checked for electronic or other malfunctions before being sent to stores. Those with defects are sent to the reject pile, which is what happens to Dan, a Snugaliffic Cuddlestar teddy bear. His hug is entirely too strong. So, he’s rejected. And that’s when his life begins. He meets Arabella, an antisocial Raggedy Ann doll who hates children, and they escape, only to be snared by a rather unpleasant rabbit named Flax. Eventually they’re recruited into a spy program where they are to protect Sam, a U.S. Senator’s son, by pretending to be his especially favorite toys.  They have to learn to overcome their defects, but they do save the day. Silly as the story is, there’s a great deal of humor and a good message in the tale. Dan learns how to control his strength. Arabella learns children aren’t all that bad and Flax comes through in a pinch to help keep Sam safe. The illustrations are very simplistic, but still amusing and the story ridiculous enough to keep the reader enticed.

BIBLIO: 2018, Bloomsbury Publishing, Ages 8 to 12, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Reader

ISBN: 978-1-68119-665-7

 

Sarah, the grinch, has spoken, but most decidedly does not have the final word. Happy gift giving to you all.

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Suspending Disbelief

As writers, we know we need to make our readers to “pay no attention to the man behind the screen.”  This is especially true of those who write science fiction and/or fantasy.  Some writers pull this off quite well.  Read Beth Revis’ books or John Claude Bemis’ books to see how thoroughly we can be sucked in.  Of course, there are many other writers out there who write quite well in these genres, but I wanted mention writers who live in the Carolinas.

 

So today, we are looking at books I’ve reviewed that would have us suspend our disbelief.

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The first book makes you believe that there is a being called Love who manipulates us to fall in love with the right person.

Definitely suspending our disbelief, wouldn’t you say?


Love Charms and Other Catastrophes

Kimberly Karalius

Hijiri Kitamura goes to a special high school for charm makers and is looking forward to seeing the friends she made the year before.  Last year had been a challenge because of Zita, the reigning Love-Charm maker, who ruled the town.  But Hijiri and her friends, with help from Love himself, had gotten rid of Zita.  This year, Love wants to show Hijiri her heart isn’t small and that she can love other people. He sends her Kentaro Oshiro, a special boy, but Hijiri thinks the boy isn’t real and refuses to be attracted to him.  Hijiri and her friends, now including Ken, enter the town’s Love-Charm contest with Hijiri as the charm maker.  Things get more and more complicated with all of her friends eventually mad at each other and Ken eventually being hurt so badly by Hijiri he stops trying to win her over.  Of course, in the end, Hijiri makes the perfect love charm and the group wins the prize.  Hijiri learns Ken is a real boy who remembers her from a childhood encounter when he was dying of heart failure.  Love gave him a new heart and, in exchange, he wants Ken to teach Hijiri that she does have a big heart and is capable of love.  The story teaches the reader how to believe in herself and follow her dreams. It is quite nicely written.

BIBLIO: 2016, Swoon Reads/Feiwel and Friends, Ages 14 +, $10.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-250-08404-0

ISBN: 978-1-250-08401-9

 

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I had a hard time believing character traits in this book.  How much can a blind person see of the world around him?

 

Nowhere Near You

Leah Thomas

Oliver, a.k.a. Ollie, and Moritz are long distance pen pals with unique problems. They met in the first book, “Because You’ll Never Meet Me.” Ollie has lived in northern Michigan woods all his life because he’s allergic to electricity which causes seizures and shorts out any electrical circuits that come within reach of his problem.  But his mother is dead and his doctor takes him on a road trip, ostensibly to meet other problem kids. Moritz, who lives in Germany, was born without eyes and gets around by listening to the world and by using echolocation like a bat to see what’s around him.  Somehow their letters get to each other.  They are both trying to be regular teenagers, but that’s not an easy task for them. They do begin to learn about themselves and Ollies learns he can control his allergies.  The story itself is sweet, but it’s hard to suspend one’s disbelief about some of their problems, in particular Moritz’s ability to “see” things a blind person couldn’t see.  Perhaps a blind person could hear someone’s eyebrows rising, but could a blind person “see” that another person had a “unibrow?”  Doesn’t seem likely.  Another of the characters takes her heart out of her chest and gives it to other people, because she doesn’t want to feel emotions.  She’s a star track runner in her school even without her heart. If the reader can continue to suspend disbelief, the story is nice read and could lead to classroom discussions.

BIBLIO: 2017, Bloomsbury Publishing, Ages 14 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-68119-178-2

 

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The disbelief is not on the part of the reader in this last book, but rather the main character.  All done in a charming fashion.

 

This Book Is NOT About Dragons

Shelley Moore Thomas

Illustrated by Fred Koehler

The rat who narrates this story is convinced there are not dragons in this book.  He walks into the forest and sees not a single dragon.  So, he tells the reader there are no dragons.  Of course, the reader sees shadows of dragons lurking behind the trees and breathing smoke out of caves.  Rat sees a rabbit, but no dragon.  He sees a red truck by a cabin, but no dragon. Even when the dragon catches the truck on fire, the rat doesn’t see the dragon.  Nor does he see the dragons in the sky, only clouds.  The moose sees the dragons and runs to the city, followed by the dragons and the oblivious rat.  Rat sees only pizza, but the chick sees the dragons and tells the naysayer to look more closely. Oh yes, there are dragons, much to Rat’s dismay.  In the end, he has to change the name of the book and take out the word NOT. This cute book encourages children to be observant and look for the whole picture.

BIBLIO: 2016, Boyds Mills Press/Highlights, Ages 4 to 7, $16.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-62979-168-5

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Hope you enjoy the reviews and please tell me about books you couldn’t believe.

 

 

 

 

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.

Changing Seasons

The weather may still be warm in your neck of the woods, but we are in November already. Which means winter is on the way. I thought you might like a little hint of what can happen in the cold months. I’m not a big fan of the cold, it makes my hands and feet hurt, but looking out at a snowy day when you know you can stay warm by the fire, is a thing of beauty. I love the quiet, gentle to feel of snow falling around me. And how sparkly clean the sky is after a storm. Anyway, hope you enjoy the books I’ve chosen.

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The Big Dark

Rodman Philbrick

Charlie Cobb lives in Harmony, New Hampshire, which becomes less harmonious after a massive solar flare knocks all electrical connections. Not just the lights are affected, but cars, generators and anything with some kind of electrical impulse is rendered useless. It happens during a spectacular showing of the aurora borealis which all 857 residents watch from a snowy and beyond cold baseball field. The assumption at first is that the power will come back on in a matter of hours, well maybe days, or perhaps weeks. People cooperate at first, but soon the camaraderie is lost and survivalist crazies try to take over. The town elects the part-time volunteer police officer and full-time school janitor, Mr. Kingman, to keep order and run the town. The longer the power outage lasts, the more Charlie’s sister worries their mother will run out of her insulin pills. The only way to get help is for Charlie to borrow his friend’s cross-country skis and head down the mountain to the nearest large town, Concord. He has to sneak out because his mother banned him from skiing after his father died in a skiing accident. What is a twenty-minute car ride takes Charlie two days skiing and he has to ward off very hungry coyotes that smell the venison jerky he’s surviving on. He does get help from an elderly couple after rescuing the husband from under his collapsed wood pile. Concord is in chaos when Charlie finally gets there, but he does find help and the medicine his mom needs. This book is a good jumping off point for many discussions on making a better world, survival and astrophysics, among other things. It is a compelling read.

BIBLIO: 2016, The Blue Sky Press/Scholastic, Inc., Ages 8 to 12, $??.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-0-545-78975-2

ISBN: 978-0-545-78977-6

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Having grown up seeing well done drawings in books—think of the original drawings in Winnie-the-Pooh or Wind in the Willows—cutesy Disney style illustrations irritate me. But this book does have merit to it.

Winter’s Flurry Adventure

Elise Allen and Halle Stanford

Illustrated by Paige Pooler

This the second of four stories in a series created to tie in with the TV “Enchanted Sisters” series developed by Mike Moon of the Jim Henson Company. Winter lives in a snowy realm with Fluffy the Polar Bear as her constant companion and best friend until Fluffy gets jealous of a baby fox and runs off. Winter calls her sisters, Spring, Summer and Autumn, to help get the bear back. In their efforts to find Fluffy, the girls go into the “Weeds’” territory where everything is dark and dirty. Eventually they find the beloved bear happily playing with some of the Weeds. Fluffy pays no attention to Winter, but he’s been telling the boys about her. After saving a moat monster, the four sisters figure out a way to entice Fluffy back to Winter’s realm where their mother, Mother Nature, joins them. Winter apologizes to Fluffy for making him feel unloved and the bear and fox become friends. The drawings are ever so cutesy, but the messages of caring about one’s friends and this planet we live on, give the book some merit.

BIBLIO: 2014, Bloomsbury Children’s Books/Bloomsbury Publishing Plc., Ages 7 to 9, $15.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Chapter Book

ISBN: 978-1-61963-267-7

ISBN: 978-1-61963-267-4

ISBN: 978-1-61963-268-4

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The last book in this week’s blog is, in some ways, a sad book, though the reader is endeared to the main character. I thought it was a good read.

Winter Sky

Patricia Reilly Giff

Siria, named by her mother for the bright star in the Canis Major constellation, lives on the seventh floor of an apartment building in one of New York City’s boroughs. She treasurers her memories of her deceased mother and dotes on her father. Pop is a firefighter and Siria worries he will get hurt or killed on the job. She feels she must follow him to nighttime fires near their apartment. Then she stumbles across several suspicious fires in the neighborhood and starts her own investigation to find the culprit. At first she assumes it’s her best friend, Douglas, because he has a green jacket that matches the scrap of fabric she finds at a fire scene. She keeps feeling the presence of someone lurking around the various scenes and she cautiously befriends a stray dog with a matted coat that shows up around the fires also. Douglas is angry with her for mistrusting him, but she learns her evidence against him is flawed. She does find the fire starter eventually, who turns out to be a runaway from Pennsylvania. She doesn’t turn him into the authorities because the fires were accidental as he tried to keep warm. Her father is hurt on the job, but survives and his injuries heal quickly. Her friends, Douglas and Laila, build her a star-gazing shelter on their apartment building’s roof as a present for her twelfth birthday. Along the way Siria learns to trust the people she loves and to believe in her own strengths. Ms. Giff has a lovely way of endearing her reader to her protagonists. This is, in some ways, a simple telling of Siria’s story, but in some ways complex. The reader will have much to ponder.

BIBLIO: 2014, Wendy Lamb Books/Random House Children’s Books/Random House LLC/ Penguin Random House Company, Ages 8 to 12, $15.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-0-375-83892-7

ISBN: 978-0-385-37192-6

ISBN: 978-0-375-37193-3

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Enjoy the beauty of fall weather and leaf colors and slowly get yourself ready for the winter months when you can sit by a fire and read a good book.

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.

Hot off the Presses

I thought I’d give you some hot off the presses books to read about this week. I just sent in these reviews of three different books. All of which were enjoyable reads. The first one is a very amusing picture book, but the second and third ones are heart wrenchers. Hope you enjoy them.

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Anybody who has ever taken a small child somewhere in public will most decidedly relate to this story. Stories like this always remind me of the meltdown I had when I was 8 years old and had to go for what eventually turned out not to be a painful shot at all. But I had just come off a month of having penicillin shots in my butt. And on the bus ride to National Institutes of Health to get said Rocky Mountain Fever shot, my older siblings had of course made the most of the ordeal. Well, we got to the line to get the shot and I was fine until it was my turn. No siree, no way was I going to have another shot. I lay on the floor and kicked my heels. I ran out of the room and onto an elevator with my mother right behind me. I bit her and kicked her and eventually got the shot that didn’t hurt a bit. Then my mother told me I had to tell my grandmother what I’d done when we got home. So I can relate to meltdowns.

Meltdown

Jill Murphy

Illustrated by Jill Murphy

Roxy and Mommy go grocery shopping and Roxy is very excited to help. Perhaps a bit too excited since she has to be reminded to not crush the chips or the bread or race down the aisle with the cart. But she pretty much behaves until she and Mommy pick out a cake with a piggy face, which Roxy wants to hold. Look out, here comes MELTDOWN! Roxy wants to eat the cake now! And boy does she let the world know. ALL THE WAY HOME. Unrepentant even when scolded, Roxy asks in her quietest voice and with her smarmiest smile to have piggy cake now. Everyone who has ever taken a screaming child some where in public will cringe and laugh throughout the story, though the child probably won’t understand what the problem is. The story prompts a good discussion about proper behavior in public. Though rabbits and other animals are used instead of children, the illustrations surely do depict a young child in a store. This book is definitely worth a read.

BIBLIO: 2016, Candlewick Press, Ages 3 to 6, $15.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-0-7636-8926-1

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Life isn’t always a walk in the park for people. Those of us who live in our almost safe enclaves tend to forget how much darkness and sadness there is around us. Being strong is sometimes not easy.

On Guard

Patrick Jones

This book is a stellar addition to the “Bounce” series which seems to focus on kids playing basketball in school and how it can help them through the rocky rapids of high school. Mercedes Morgan is an outstanding point guard for her team on her way to breaking state records for shooting three-point baskets, but family life gets in the way. Mercy was able to shift focus when her family moved away from the rougher parts of Birmingham, Alabama, and is headed towards a full ride at the University of Alabama. But her older sister, Callie, is still pulled in by the “corner” and her boyfriend. The girls’ younger brother, Lincoln, is heading in the same direction until Callie is murdered by her gang. She lingers in a coma as the family tries to carry on and Mercy tries to concentrate on winning the three-point record and a scholarship to college. Mercy’s girlfriend, Jade, who came from the same rough neighborhood, gives support as best she can, but Mercedes loses focus as she watches Callie die and feels she losing Lincoln to the old neighborhood. With Jade’s help and support from her teammates and coach, Mercy saves her brother, at least for the time being, and ends up with her full ride. The though all of the characters are seen only through Mercedes’ eyes and feelings, the reader gets a real feel for them and Mercy’s helplessness in making things right. All kinds of school room discussions emanate from this book and writing is concise. This book is a winner.

BIBLIO: 2016, Darby Creek/Lerner Publishing Group, Inc., Ages 14 +, $26.65.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-51241-123-2

ISBN: 978-1-51241-207-9

ISBN: 978-1-51241-134-8

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Sometimes I get to read a book that stays with me for a long time because of how nicely it’s written, but also because of the story’s essence. This is one of those books.

The Memory Book

Lara Avery

Samantha Agatha McCoy, a.k.a. Sammie, has an incurable disease that is killing her as it steals her brain. She writes a journal to her future self so that she’ll remember her past. The disease is called Niemann-Pick Type C and it usually attacks children much younger than high school senior, Sammie. She is partner in a winning debate team that’s on its way to winning the National Debate Championship. She has a crush on Stuart Shah, a super hot guy who’s now studying in New York City. But, just as things are going well for Sammie, her disease worsens. She has seizures and blanks out. Her speech slurs and her memory worsens. She tries to have a normal life and looks forward to her plans for her future. She never does make it to college, but she does make the best of the time she has left. The story could break the reader’s heart except for all the hope and love Sammie and her family have for each other. In addition to the story being about Sammy dealing with her disease, the author also neatly folds in the usual trials and tribulations of a nerdy teenager. It could lead to interesting classroom discussions on relationships and diseases. This book is definitely worth reading.

BIBLIO: 2016, Poppy/Little, Brown and Company/Alloy Entertainment/Hachette Book Group, Ages 14 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-31628-374-8

ISBN: 978-0-31628-377-9

ISBN: 978-1-47890-971-2