What Good Writing Looks Like

I read a great many books during a year, largely because I review children’s books for the Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database, but also because I love to read.

I don’t just read books published by the “trade” and “indie” publishers, but also self-published books that I find at conferences and book-signing events.

Generally speaking, the trade and indie books have some merit, though they may be in need of a more thorough edit.

Sad to say, a large percentage of the self-published books should never have seen the light of day. That may be an arrogant thing to say, since I self-published my first novel, Terror’s Identity, but I did have two professional editors critique and edit the book to a fare-the-well. And I used much of their editing input to improve the story.

Anyway, the two books I’m commenting on this week fall into the trade publisher category and are well worth the money or trip to your library.

It is amazing the number of gifted writers floating around in our universe.

Cherry Money Baby

John M. Cusick, whom I had the pleasure to meet the past August at the SCBWI-Carolinas’ annual conference, has written an interesting book about a teen-aged girl who loves her small town and her family. She has no ambition other than to graduate high school, marry her boyfriend, and live happily ever after. That is until she meets a movie star not much older than she, who is filming an historical-fiction movie in Cherry’s hometown.

The movie star befriends Cherry and turns her upside down by introducing her to drugs and wealth and the playgirl life. All of this causes Cherry to pause and reevaluate who she is and what she should do with her life. The story is well told and intriguing, reminding us that things frequently are not what they seem to be. In the end, Cherry solve the puzzle of who she is and where she wants to end up.

BIBLIO: 2013, Candlewick Press, Ages 14 +, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-7636-557-0

Orbiting Jupiter

Gary D. Schmidt is not only an astounding teacher, but an exceptional author. This book will stay in your mind and heart for a very long time, filling you with heartbreak and joy. The story is told by Jack, who is the son of a local farmer in a small northern town. His parents take in foster children to give them a loving home, at least for a while.

Their latest foster child is 13-year-old Joseph, who has already fathered a child with the love of his young life. But he’s never seen his daughter and mourns the death of his girlfriend. He is sullen–or so it would seem–angry, but turns out to have a way with cows. He goes to school with Jack, who becomes fond and protective of him.

Joseph hasn’t had a happy life since his mother abandoned him and his father abuses him.

The story blossoms into the bond between the two boys and then Jack’s endeavor to help Joseph find his young daughter, Jupiter, named for Joseph and his girlfriend’s favorite planet. The end of the story is bittersweet, with Joseph dying and Jack’s family adopting Jupiter. Definitely worth reading, if you haven’t already.

BIBLIO: 2015, Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, Ages 13 +, $9.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-544-46222-9

ISBN: 978-0-544-93839-7

 

 

 

 

Whimsically Sweet

My last collection of books was a wonderful mix of amusing picture books and novels for older children. I told you about the YA anthology in my last post, so this time we’ve got two picture books and a middle-reader, all of them a bit on the whimsical side.

 

The first one has winsome illustrations of a bus with a bunny face.

 

Bunny Bus

Ammi-Joan Paquette

Illustrated by Lesley Breen Withrow

This is a cute little book about learning to share the load, rather than letting someone else take all the burden. The drawings of the various animals in the story are whimsical, especially the bunny bus, which looks like a small bus with rabbit ears and a big smile, which exposes her rodenty front teeth. More and more animals call for her to stop and take them along.  She’s happy to do it, even though she knows she has more than enough to fill her bus.  Finally, the bus goes BOOM and strews carrots, candy and Easter Eggs all over the place.  The passengers realize they have caused Bunny Bus to break down, so they give her a bath and share the load.  Some of the rhymes are a bit forced leaving the reader wondering what the author meant, but children probably won’t notice, and the message is well told.

BIBLIO: 2017, Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers/Macmillan Publishing Group,

LLC, Ages 4 to 6, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-0-374-30225-2

 

 

The second has a message of what fun reading is and how being gentle and unselfish are so rewarding.

 

Prince Ribbit

Jonathan Emmett

Illustrated by Poly Bernatene

This is a wonderfully silly take on the story of the frog who turns into a handsome prince.  Lucinda and Arabella love reading fairy tales, especially ones where the princess ends up winning the handsome prince.  One day a frog from the nearby pond hears the girls read the story of the princess and the frog prince.  What a sweet deal that would, he thinks, and he hops out of the pond and close to the sisters. Unfortunately, the two girls scream and carry on.  But their younger sister, Martha is enchanted. What a cool thing to have a talking frog as a friend. Arabella and Lucinda change their tune when Prince Ribbit explains he is, indeed, an enchanted prince.  They pamper him with soft beds, delicious food and lots of other treats, but he doesn’t turn into a prince. In the meantime, Martha has been reading books of fairy tales, lots of them. Turns out the books are fun to read, but she also learns how to set the frog and her sisters straight.  With some nudging from Martha, Arabella and Lucinda decide the thing to is smother him kisses, which doesn’t do a thing for Prince Ribbit.  Sadly, he takes off his golden crown and fancy clothes and hops back to his pond, but Martha is sorry to see him go. She begs him not to go, then picks the frog up and gently kisses him. In a cloud of pink smoke, the frog turns into a handsome prince and sweeps Martha off her feet. Of course, not everything you read in a book is true.  Children and their grownups will want to read this book over and over again.

BIBLIO: 2017 (orig. 2016,) Peachtree Publishers/Macmillan Children’s Books/Pan Macmillan/Macmillan Publishers International Limited, Ages 4 to 7, $16.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-56145-761-8

 

The middle-reader is a charming story of being a good friend and believing in possibilities.

 

The Infinity Year of Avalon James

Dana Middleton

Avalon James and her best friend, Atticus Brightwell, turn ten. Atticus’s grandfather told them just before his grandson’s birthday that age ten is their Infinity Year in which they would have a magical power.  So, they keep waiting for the magic to appear. Avalon hopes her magic will help her ward off any mischief her nemesis, Elena, has planned for her, but nothing seems to change and Elena keeps taunting her. Not that Avalon hasn’t done her share of taunting back. Avalon also hopes her magic might be that her dad writes to her again. In the meantime, Avalon is working on an ancestry project with another classmate and practicing for the school-wide spelling bee.  But, as the year progresses, Avalon’s magic makes no appearance, and she’s getting worried. But after Halloween, Avalon is convinced she can “mind-talk” to animals.  And it turns out she’s right.  Her power helps her save Atticus from a charging bull by calling him to chase her instead of the already hurt Atticus.  The friends’ Infinity Year comes to an end when they turn eleven, but they are stronger for all that has happened to them during their tenth year.  This is another good book for discussions about bullying children and trying your best to not seek vengeance.

BIBLIO: 2016, Feiwel and Friends/ Macmillan, Ages 8 to 12, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 9781250085696

ISBN: 9781250085689

 

Next week, I’ll tell you about the fifth book in this batch.