I’ve Been Sick

One of my most favorite joke-stories ever is one I’ve known most of my 75 years. But most people politely laugh and change the subject, because they don’t get it. My darling husband, who usually shares my sense of humor, finally told me not to tell it anymore because nobody gets it.

It came to mind because I spent pretty much the whole of September ingesting one antibiotic after the other to fight off one ailment after the other. I’ve been sick.

The joke is: King Richard the Lion wakes up one particular morning feeling especially fierce. He stretches and then curls his long red tongue into a enormous yawn. Now ready for the day, he pads out from his bed and grabs the first elephant he sees by the trunk. He whirls that elephant round and round and slings him as far as he can. The earth rattles when the elephant lands and King Richard is on him one leap.

“Who’s the king of the jungle?” he demands.

The elephant doesn’t move, but, with a quaver in his voice, whispers, “Why you are sir!”

“You got that right,” snarls King Richard and heads off to scare the first rhinoceros he finds.

The rhinoceros and then the giraffe and zebra and all the other animals agree. The lion is indeed king of jungle.

Quite satisfied with himself, Richard struts his way back to his lair, where he comes across a field mouse just at the edge of the plain. That poor mouse doesn’t stand a chance.

But when the lion is finished shredding the trembling creature and demands, yet again, “Who’s the king of jungle?”

Said mouse squeaks, “Yeah, but I’ve been sick.”

I love the story because to me it means the biggest and toughest isn’t always the winner. And even the smallest can triumph.

Please let me know if you think it’s funny. You probably won’t, but I don’t care. I think it’s funny.

Anyway, my blog entries this week are about finding ways to prevail when life throws you out into left field.

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I liked this one because, although the other boy is a bully, the main character has a part in making him that way.

EllRay Jakes Is Not a Chicken!

Sally Warner

Illustrated by Jamie Harper

Eight-year-old EllRay gets into trouble enough on his own without having to defend himself against Jared’s physical bullying. To make matters worse, EllRay is the smallest kid in his class and Jared is the biggest. EllRay figures he can patiently wait through the torment until Jared gets bored with him and picks a new victim. Unfortunately, EllRay’s parents are not happy with his progress report and scold him for not doing better in the behavior department. If EllRay can stay out of trouble for a week, his dad will take him to Disneyland the following Saturday, so he puts up with Jared giving him knuckle rubs on the ribs and tripping him in class and in general making school life miserable. Jared’s bullying begins to be noticed by their teacher and other teachers, but he doesn’t back off much and his side-kick, Stanley, helps him out. EllRay makes it through the week, only to discover his parents have invited Jared to come along to Disneyland.  During their time together, EllRay learns that he had inadvertently embarrassed Jared just before the Christmas break and that’s why he’s been so mean. The boys make up and life is better at school. Not that EllRay isn’t still the class clown. The book makes a good discussion jumping off point for understanding bullying and how to deal with it and the illustrations are cute.

BIBLIO: 2011, Viking/Penguin Young Readers Group/ Penguin Group, Ages 6 to 8, $14.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Early Reader

ISBN: 978-0-670-06243-0

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We all have trouble accepting our part in what bad befalls us, yet we all have a role to play in all of it.

It’s All Your Fault

Paul Rudnick

Up to this point in her life, Caitlin Mary Prudence Rectitude Singleberry has considered herself a good Christian girl devoutly trying to follow Jesus’ teachings. Caitlin has severe anxiety problems, to the point of obsessively counting things, like how many railings in a fence section or naming her many siblings in chronological order. But in one weekend she has fallen to the Devil and is now in jail for armed robbery, car theft and a myriad of charges all because of her cousin Heller Harrigan—once her best friend and now her sworn enemy. After all Heller did almost get Caitlin killed four years earlier and then never called to say she was sorry or even come to visit while Caitlin was in the hospital. But now Heller is on the edge of major stardom in the Hollywood sky with a new block-buster mega-million movie based on a best-selling series of novels. Unfortunately, she has a tendency to get into trouble so her mother and the studio decide Caitlin should chaperone her cousin. For the most part, things go poorly until Caitlin gets into trouble. In the end, Caitlin and Heller become friends again. The author has an off-beat sense of humor which will have the reader laughing out loud. But he also addresses serious teen problems, such as drug and alcohol abuse and mental disorders.

BIBLIO: 2016, Scholastic Press/Scholastic, Inc., Ages 14 +, $19.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-545-46428-4

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Most things in life come with a price and it is up to us to deal with them.

Wildflower: The Best Songs Come from Broken Hearts

Alecia Whitaker

Bird Barrett plays fiddle in her family’s bluegrass band. The band the family started to deal with their deep sorrow over the accidental drowning death of the youngest child, Caleb. Dylan, Bird’s oldest brother, enjoys being on the road with his family so much, he forgoes a traditional brick and mortar college for studying online. Jacob, the second son in the family, also loves life on the road and playing his upright bass. So the whole is well settled into the rhythm of setting up, playing gigs, breaking down the equipment and climbing back into their RV named Winnie. When she’s not doing her school work or practicing her fiddle, Maybelle, she writes poems primarily about Adam, another talented teen itinerant musician and the love of Bird’s young life—all sixteen years of it. But all this changes when Bird has to sing lead after her dad comes down with laryngitis. Turns out there’s a record producer from Nashville in the audience, who wants to add Bird to his stable of musicians. Fortunately, a more low-key producer comes along and becomes Bird’s producer. The family settles down in Nashville as all attention focuses on making Bird a household name. Things go swimmingly for Bird, but Dylan and Jacob feel left out and Adam finally realizes he’s not going to have a relationship with Bird. The singer/fiddler is devastated when she discovers that Adam has gone on with his life, but comes to grips with it as she learns to hold her own with all the people trying to manipulate her. Some parts of this book drift, but the bits about playing music and writing songs are beautiful and the homage paid to Lady Byrd Johnson and performers like Maybelle Carter is wonderful.

BIBLIO: 2014, Poppy/Little Brown and Company/Hatchett Book Group, Ages 14 +, $18.00.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0316-25138-9

ISBN: 978-0316-25136-5

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Believe in yourself and what you can do, no matter what the lion does to stop you. And please let me know what you think. Especially what you think of my joke. Thanks for reading. Sarah

Being Comfortable in Your Own Skin

If you’ve never gone through a period of life feeling ashamed, consider yourself blessed. Most people lack self confidence at some point in their lives. Teens and younger children frequently feel that. It’s part of growing up. When I was in high school I didn’t think anybody could possibly like me, especially any boy. Boys did like me, but even when they showed or told me that, I didn’t believe them. I probably had a reputation of being an ice queen.

At 5’6” tall, 120 pounds, and with flame-red hair, I probably wasn’t all that bad to look at. But, still I didn’t think I measured up. So I can relate to all who feel unlovable and unworthy.

Fortunately, I did find at least some of my good qualities and did discover I wasn’t really stupid. Most people do find their paths in life, but most also don’t have an easy path.

Anyway, here are three books that deal with our struggles toward self respect. Hope you enjoy them.

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The first book is about being picked on or bullied because of some physical difference. Add to that an emotional sadness and you’ve got one insecure individual.

Camo Girl
Kekla Magoon
Ella is picked upon by the other kids because her skin is mottled—dark brown in some spots on her face and light brown in others. She’s ashamed of her looks, thinking she’s ugly. She had two friends up until this year—sixth grade. But Millie has been avoiding her except when they ride to and from school, so Ella is down to one friend who calls himself Zachariah, knight of his own realm. Everyone else makes fun of Z, but Ella—known to Z as The Lady Ellie-nor—is loyal to her friend. He helped her grieve when her father died by making up their fantasy world, which was good at the time. The problem is Zachariah slides ever further into the alternate world so he won’t have to deal with the reality of his father having deserted him, leaving his mom and him to camp out at the Wal-Mart where she works. He becomes even more the object of torture for the school bullies; the Lady Ellie-nor coming to his rescue. Z’s distress deepens when Bailey James starts at their school and seeks out Ella’s company. She thinks it’s because she’s the only other black kid in the school. But he invites her to join him as he hangs out with the popular crowd and protects her from the bullies. She finds herself pulled toward other people and begins to reconnect with her friend Millie. Z goes on a mission to find his estranged father and Bailey helps Ella find him. Bailey has secrets of his own, including having his own father in a psychiatric hospital to deal with his post-traumatic stress disorder. Z finally gets the help he desperately needs and Ella begins to move on from her father’s death. This is a very well written novel and an enjoyable read.
BIBLIO: 2011, Aladdin/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division/Simon & Schuster Publishing, Inc., Ages 8 to 12, $15.99
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Middle Reader
ISBN: 978-1-4169-7804-6
ISBN: 978-1-4424-1722-9

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This second book is about having to move from one culture to another and acknowledging uncomfortable truths.

Flowers in the Sky
Lynn Joseph
Nina Perez is perfectly happy living in Samana, Dominican Republic, but her mother is always harping on her to move to New York City and live with her brother, Darrio. Mamí is sure Nina will have better schools to go to and many chances to marry a rich man, who will take care of Nina and Mamí. Mamí whines at Darrio to send them money, which he dutifully does. But when Nina goes to New York, she discovers how her brother is making his money. He sells stolen goods in exchange for a free apartment and a salary. Nina makes friends at her new high school, but she falls for an older boy, Luis Santana, with a street reputation of being a bad sort. Nina misses being able to have a flower garden, so Darrio buys her an orchid to grow on the fire escape and soon she is growing lots of orchids to sell in the neighborhood. She starts up a friendship with Luis, even though Darrio and Mamí disapprove and would prefer she date her smart school friend, Carlos. Eventually Darrio gets caught for selling stolen goods, but Luis protects Nina and tells her the story of how he got his reputation. He tells her he’s thinking of going to college. Nina also realizes how much pressure she and Mamí have put on Darrio to support them over the years and how hard it’s been on him. This is a nice story, well told. It could lead to classroom discussions on cultural differences and learning to listen to people to see who they really are.
BIBLIO: 2013, HarperTeen/Epic Reads/HarperCollins Publishers, Ages 13 +, $17.99
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Young Adult
ISBN: 978-0-06-029794-7
ISBN: 978-0-06-223642-5

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The third book is  about moving, but also dealing with new philosophies.

White Crow
Marcus Sedgwick
Against her desire, Rebecca moves to Winterfold from London, because her Detective Inspector dad has to lie low until the hullabaloo about his involvement in the death of a teenage girl simmers down. Winterfold is hot and boring and falling into the sea little by little. But Rebecca does meet a strange and fascinating girl named Ferelith and they become friends. Together they explore the town as Ferelith lures Rebecca into discussions of life and death and whether Heaven and Hell actually exist. Juxtaposed in this story are excerpts from the diary of an eighteenth century priest who is wondering about the same issues with a strange French doctor. The girls start daring each other to do increasingly bizarre and dangerous things and end up with Rebecca being locked in a special room where Ferelith tries to coerce her friend into admitting the reality of good and evil or God and the Devil or an afterlife. The two finally explore a hidden room/cave at the bottom of the French doctor’s house and find bones of the seven people the doctor and priest had murdered. As the girls are in room, the back of the house falls into the sea. Ferelith jumps into the sea and drowns, leaving a terrified Rebecca alone in the cave. Strange story with dark twists and turns which will keep the reader enthralled, even if it is a bit convoluted.
BIBLIO: 2011 (orig. 2010,) Roaring Brook Press/Holtzbrink Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership, Ages 14 +, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Young Adult
ISBN: 978-1-59643-594-0

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Enjoy the reviews and remember to be happy in your own skin.  At almost 75, I’ve pretty much achieved that.