Keeping My Aging Brain Busy

The Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database (http://www.clcd.com) has a new way of getting books to reviewers. They send out a list of books from which to choose and the reviewer gets to pick books of interest. As you can see from my selection, I like to see what’s going in all KidLit categories. Makes it more interesting, I think, especially since I write for all ages.

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The first book for today is very intriguing and comes with its own set of special viewing films. But have a youngster with when you read it, because your adult eyes may not see as sharply as young eyes.

Illuminightmare

Lucy Brownridge

Illustrated/Designed by Carnovsky

Part of a 3-D series complete with special lenses; this book focuses on seeing different aspects of images. Since this book deals with spooky images, the reader must look through the various lenses to see the figures clearly. Red is to see the historical aspect of the picture. Green is to see the surroundings of the area depicted. And Blue is to see the spooky, ghostly areas. Children reading this with an elderly person might have to explain what is shown under the blue lens. Grandparent age people might not see what’s seen through that lens. Either that or the ghostly world is hiding. However, the book is fun to look at and the red and green lenses do make the images much sharper. The first and second two-page spreads are about the Thrse shipwreck, which was wrecked in 1669. Following those spreads are black and white drawings of what the “Earthly,” or red lens, depicts and what the “Supernatural,” or blue lens depicts. The second set of spreads are about the Black Forest in Germany. Even people who can’t see all that’s there will enjoy looking at the pictures and finding what they can.

BILIO: 2019, Wide-Eyed/Quarto, Ages 7+, $?.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-78603-547-9

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This is a fascinating tale of what humans can do if they don’t think through their plans.

The Casket of Time

Andri Snaer Magnason

Translated by Bjorg Arnadotter and Andrew Cauthery

Sigrun’s parents buy into the line that they should wait for better times in their time-stopping caskets and re-emerge when life is better and the world is a safe place. Well…that doesn’t always work out the way it’s supposed to. Sigrun’s casket opens ahead of time and she discovers that, though the world may be better for plants and animals, it’s most decidedly not better for humans. As she wandering around trying to figure out what to do, she meets a boy, Marcus, who takes her to an old woman who tells them and other children a long-winded fairy tale. The main character in the tale is named Obsidiana, the daughter of a king who wants his daughter to have a charmed life where she knows only good times. Problem is, the world changes without the “Eternal Princess” realizing it. Her father, King Dimon, is always off trying to conquer the world, but she doesn’t know this in her casket. Though a bit long winded, the story is a parable on why we should take better care of our planet and be more compassionate toward each other, including the plants and other creatures that share our space. The reader jumps back and forth from present time to olden times, which can be disconcerting, but who doesn’t like a good tale. Told mostly in true folk/fairy tale fashion, the book could be used as a starting point toward a discussion of being good minders of our world.

BIBLIO: 2019 (orig. 2013), Yonder/Restless Books, Ages 10 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Reader

ISBN: 9781632062055

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Sometimes it seems as if new spins on old tales work too hard to be different, but this version of the 3 little pigs is cute.

The Three Little Superpigs: Once upon a Time

Claire Evans

Illustrated by Claire Evans

We all know the basic story of the Three Little Pigs, right? How they had to deal with the mean old wolf who wanted them for a snack. This version adds the idea of the pigs wanting to be superheroes. When Mother Pig has had enough of their mess and sends them out on their own, they end up in Fairyland where they meet none other than Little Red Riding Hood. She warns them of the mean old wolf who steals Mary’s lamb, and sheep’s and various grandmothers’ clothing. Each of the pigs builds his own little house and, as we all know, two of the pigs don’t think it out well, plus they just want to play. So, they make easily destroyed houses of straw and wood. Of course, the prudent pig builds his house out of bricks and ends up saving everyone’s bacon. We all know how the story ends, in this case with the Fairyland people all proclaiming the pigs to be Superpigs. The drawings are cute and the story is as endearing as ever.

BIBLIO: 2017, Scholastic Press/Scholastic Inc., Ages 4 to 8, $14.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-338-24548-6

Hope all is well with you. Let me know what you think about my selections. Thanks, Sarah

What’s in a Word?

What a great group of books I’ve reviewed in the past few days. I asked for an eclectic mix, with some picture books, some novels, MG and YA, and some non-fiction. 

Here are three that especially grabbed my heart. Two may end up staying in my library, but at the very least will be given to children I’m extra fond of.

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The first is not just well written and engaging, but it also has lots of Bengali mythology in it. I’m always a sucker for myths.  And, on the top of that, I found very few grammatical errors! Be still my heart. I plan to read the first book in the series, and look forward to reading the third book when it comes out.

Game of Stars

Sayantani DasGupta

This delightful story is the second in a series entitled “Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond.” Full of Bengali, India, mythology, blended with fantasy about a different universe, the half snake and half human main character, Kiranmala, must prevent her bio dad from killing her friend and taking over the multiverse. Her bio dad, she discovers in the first book, is the monster snake king in the Kingdom Beyond and he plans to kill Kiran along with lots of other people. The descriptions of the various characters are wonderfully evocative, and the characters themselves are complex. For instance, one grandmotherly figure is a monster with a soft side. Kiran has to do all kinds of superhero actions to save the day and gets help from friends in the most unlikely places. The story is good saga tale with true depictions of diversity being good and the message that being different isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Add in flying horses, and this book gets even better. Teacher will find a lot to use in this series to open lines of discussion on diversity, the messages in mythology, understanding different cultures, even exploring different foods. Enjoy the read and go back to read the first of the series, The Serpent’s Secret, and be sure to read the third book in the series when it’s available.

BIBLIO: 2019, Scholastic Press/Scholastic Inc., Ages 8 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-1-338-18573-7

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Everybody has periods of sadness, I think. It’s part of the human experience and also part of the animal experience. I’ve witnessed many an animal grieve for a lost companion—human or animal. Anyway, sometimes we need help getting over our grief. This book sweetly shows a way to help.

Maybe Tomorrow?

Charlotte Agell

Illustrated by Ana Ramirez Gonzlez

This is a sweet story about how friendship can help lighten the load that sorrow or longing can bring to a person. Elba is dragging around a big block of sorrow because she misses a departed friend. She doesn’t want to play or doing anything but mope. But her friend Norris helps her miss her friend, even though he never knew the friend. Elba asks him why and he replies because Elba is his friend. Norris encourages Elba to do things out of her comfort zone and slowly they realize that her sorrow block is shrinking. At first, the two of them could easily sit on the block but soon nobody can sit on it. And, finally, Elba says yes all on her own when Norris asks her if she wants to go on a picnic. This book will help many a person deal with whatever is causing sorrow or depression, and it’s a good lesson on learn about compassion. The illustrations are sweet and give the story even more of a caring feeling. It could also lead to good discussion on the subject of sorrow.

BIBLIO: 2019, Scholastic Press/Scholastic Inc., Ages 4 to 8, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-338-21488-8

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I love words and learning new ones, don’t you? It makes me sad that our language is deteriorating in to sound bites or tweets. Takes away the richness of communicating, IMHO. Anyway, here’s a new dictionary just to cheer me up. Hope it cheers you up as well.

The Dictionary of Difficult Words

Jane Solomon

Illustrated by Louise Lockhart

This is a book that any language lover should cherish. Who wouldn’t want a book that gives the definition of ultracrepidarian? This is a person who spout opinions about things without any knowledge of the subject. Know anybody like that? And, yes, there is a word for studying UFOs: ufology. The book is also filled with wonderfully whimsical illustrations. In addition to more extraordinary words, there another of words many people will know, but they are words we don’t use all the time. Since our vocabularies seem to be shrinking or being shortened to fit on tweets and other social media outlets, it’s nice to see there are still places to find more fulfilling words. The thing that would make this book even better is if the compiler/author had not so frequently used a single subject and a plural object in her sentences. For instance, saying something like Mary set her books on their desk, is incorrect grammar, unless she’s sharing the desk with someone else.  How about reword the sentence to not use pronouns? That aside, this book is definitely a keeper. Teachers should have a lot of fun using this with their students.

BIBLIO: 2019, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books/Quarto, Ages 8 +, $27.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Non-Fiction

ISBN: 978-1-786-03811-1

I’d love the hear or read about what you’ve read recently. Please keep in touch. Sarah

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.