I’m Back!

Have you ever had to move to a new neighborhood, or change schools, or be set in any kind of new environment?  I don’t know about you, but I find it scary and stressful. How do you deal with changes? I get a bit on the manic side and hide in bluster.  So, I picked three stories that put at least one of the characters in a situation of intense change.

 

The first book is a bit fanciful, but the protagonist is believable and the story is amusing.

 

Clayton Stone, Facing Off

Ena Jones

Clayton Stone is a thirteen-year-old orphan living with his grandmother, Gran, who recruits him into the Special Services in Clayton Stone, At Your Service, where he solves a kidnapping. This time he must change his identity and transfer to an elite private school to protect the president’s son.  To make matters worse, his new school is playing against his old school in a playoff game to see which team goes to the Lacrosse Championship game. Things don’t go swimmingly for Clayton, who has to remember he is now Max Carrington.  He keeps over reacting to circumstances in his new school, but he does finally make friends with First Son, Kyle Hampton.  Together, with the help of two other kids, they figure out who is threatening Kyle, though, in the end, it turns out the bad guys are after another student.  The story is well-written and has plenty of surprises, in addition to humor, especially all the disguises Gran uses. Resourceful teachers will find several topics of discussions in their classrooms.  Loyalty, sportsmanship, patience and thinking through dilemmas are all good discussion topics.

BIBLIO: 2016, Holiday House, Ages 8 to 13, $16.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Reader

ISBN: 9780823436484

 

The second book is set on the beautiful Hawaiian island of Oahu, but not in Honolulu. The reader gets a sense of the island without the glitz.

 

Juniors

Kaui Hart Hemmings

 

In the middle of her junior year of high school, Lea Lane moves from San Francisco

back to Hawaii where her actress mother is in a new TV show. Having spent her early childhood in Kailua, on Oahu Island near Honolulu, she knows the area and has kept in touch with Danny, a neighbor boy.  She is enrolled in a posh private school, thanks to her long-absent father, or so she’s been told.  The house her mother has rented for them is shoddy and in a not-so-nice neighborhood, but now they’ve been invited to use the guest cottage of an estate owned by long-standing friends of Lea’s mother. In fact, Mr. West was Lea’s mom’s boyfriend for a brief time, before he introduced her to the fellow who got her pregnant.  Lea feels awkward about the arrangement until she gets to know the West kids who are about her age.  As with all lives, things get complicated and Lea has to sort out what her true desires are.  The story is well told and intricate and has a good ending.  Lea grows a lot during the story.  The down side of the book is the easy acceptance the author has with letting the juvenile characters be promiscuous and happily get drunk and/or high.  A little more regret and the parents being a bit less lax in showing their children how to behave would have been nice. Lea, at least, shows some remorse for having succumbed to the booze and drugs.

BIBLIO: 2015, G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin Group, Ages 14 +, $18.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-399-17360-8

 

You must read the third book with the spirit of letting your imagination run wild. There are lots of magical, mythical creatures parading across the pages. If you can’t allow yourself to believe in Unicorns and other such creatures, don’t bother with this book. I loved it, because, at all most 76 years of age, I still believe in Unicorns and Griffins.

 

Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Unicorn Training

Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater

Illustrated by Maggie Stiefvater

Pip Bartlett is spending the summer with her Aunt Emma at the Cloverton Clinic for Magical Creatures. She loves talking with the animals, though no-one else realizes she understands what the animals are saying.  Aunt Emma and her daughter, Callie, and Pip are going to the Triple Trident magical animal show and their neighbor, Tomas, is going with them.  Tomas is allergic to just about everything, but that doesn’t stop him from going places.  Callie, being a prissy teenager, is less than thrilled with going.  But the fun really ramps up when their friend Mr. Henshaw’s Show Unicorn gets a case of jangling nerves and won’t settle down for anyone.  That is until Pip takes the Unicorn, Regent Maximus, into a paddock filled with baby unicorns.  He begins to calm down as he tells the young ones all the trials and terrors that await them. They become his adoring entourage.  It’s a cute story and will certainly get the reader giggling.  Frequently, a page in the book is taken up by a description of some magical creature, with an amusing drawing.  The glimmerbeast subspecies called a rockshine, which turns invisible when frightened, is the first illustration.  It looks rather like a deranged sheep.  The story progresses with lots of mishaps to Regent Maximus and other creatures, but in the end, Regent Maximus wins the Triple Trident championship.  Even though the creatures are all mythical, the story can be used as a way discuss animal anatomy and ways to calm scared creatures.

BIBLIO: 2017, Scholastic Press/Scholastic Inc. Ages 8 to 12, $9.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle-Reader

ISBN: 978-0-545-70929-3

Enjoy the post and let me know what’s going on with you.  Thanks, Sarah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

In Honor of Scotty Andersen and his lovely Wife, Linda

 

After a well-fought battle to concur lung problems, Linda Martin Andersen’s beloved husband Scotty “shuffled off this mortal coil” and is now breathing easily.  So, sad as the topic may be, I thought I would talk about three stellar books written on the subject of dealing with death. I do hope you readers and your families are doing well.

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The first book is a well-deserved reprinting of Lois Lowry’s book, based in part on the death of her own sister.

A Summer to Die

Lois Lowry

Sometimes reading or rereading a well told story from years ago is so much better than reading a new story.  This book is indeed such a joy. Meg and her sister, Molly, move from their comfortable home in town where each has her own bedroom to a small cottage in the country where they must share a bedroom so their dad can finish the book he’s writing.  Neither girl is happy with the move at first, but then pretty Molly finds a boyfriend at her school and Meg meets an old man, Will Banks,  down the road who helps her find her way.  The family dynamic changes when Molly gets seriously ill and has to spend time in a hospital.  When she comes back, Molly is not the same and Meg doesn’t know why.  In the meantime Meg begins to take her photography more seriously, encouraged by Will Banks, who gives her his still good, German camera that he bought in WWII.  Will owns the three houses on his farm: the cabin he lives in; the cottage he rents to Meg’s family; and the large house he grew up in.  Unfortunately, his only living relative wants to sell the farm for a profit, saying Will can live his life out there.  When Will sells the large house to a nice young couple, Maria and Ben, his nephew threatens to sue him.  Will is key to Meg’s dealing with Molly’s impending death.  Plus, Maria and Ben want Meg to take pictures of the birth of their child.  Though she and her parents move back to their house in town after Meg’s dad finishes his book, Meg does keep in touch with Will, visiting him when the blue gentian blooms.  The book will make your heart sad and happy.

BIBLIO: 2016 (orig. 1977,) Houghton Mifflin Books for Children /Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Ages 8 to 12, $8.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-0-395-25338-0

ISBN: 978-0-544-66841-6

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This book has so much going for it; I struggled to relate all the nuances. And, of course, having horses be a big part of the story certainly made me more enthusiastic.  I could envision the Cornwall area of England with much clarity and sympathized with not just the protagonists, but the lesser players.

 

One Silver Summer

Rachel Hickman

Alexander is a dreading the party downstairs on his secondary school’s ballroom floor.  He knows he’s going to be the center to attention, because, as future heir to the English throne, he always is.  But now his parents are divorcing and the news is spreading all over the British Isles, actually, the world.  Worst of all he learned of the pending divorce not through his parents, but a rapacious, gossip-mongering reporter. All he wants to do is to escape to his grandmother’s house in Cornwall and hide. However, when he does, he discovers a girl there who seems to be hiding also.  But Alex is so used to strangers, especially pretty young girls, wanted something from him—like be his queen—he is quite suspicious of the newcomer to his village.  And finding her trespassing on his grandmother, the Countess of Tremayne’s, estate makes him even more suspicious. Saskia, a.k.a. Sass, recently orphaned, is now living in the village with her uncle and recovering from her mother’s awful death in Brooklyn, NY.  Alex is attracted to her anyway, because she seems so innocent and appears to be ignorant of who he is.  Sass thinks he’s the stable boy because he’s always out riding horses or cleaning up after them.  He teaches her to ride and they spend more and more time together.  Sass meets Alex’s grandmother, but doesn’t know who she is or that she and Alex are related.  The plot is nicely convoluted and both Sass and Alex grow emotionally.  Though there’s a bit of a fairy tale quality, it’s more about understanding oneself.  It is a delightful read with a lovely feel for the Cornwall countryside.

BIBLIO: 2016, Scholastic Press/Scholastic, Inc., Ages 13+, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-545-080893-4

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And what can be more heart wrenching than reading about a child realizing how soon she’s going to be an orphan?  (Sorry, but from my perspective of 75 years, even a teenager is a child.  I have trouble thinking of my 50s something children as anything but my children.)

 

Positively Beautiful

Wendy Mills

Erin Bailey’s father dies in a plane crash when she is six, leaving her afraid of the dark.  Now, ten years later, her mother is diagnosed with breast cancer. What’s a teenager to do when she sees her future as an orphan?  Especially since she tests positive for the BRCA gene mutation?  To make her more alone, she and her best friend aren’t as tight anymore because her friend has her first serious boyfriend. Erin meets a young woman, Ashley, in an online BRCA chat group who gives Erin courage and hope, and she decides to learn to fly.  Of course she doesn’t want to upset her mother, so she keeps lots of secrets.  Then she really messes up when she “borrows” her instructor’s plane to fly from Georgia to Florida to go visit Ashley, who has secrets.  Things get messier, as any good book should, before they get better, but even though her mother does die just before Erin’s graduation from high school, she has taught her daughter how to understand this mutant gene and lots more about life.  The book is nicely written and gives a great deal of information about dealing with breast cancer, including encouraging girls when to get tested and whom to confide in. The love story woven into the narrative isn’t too shabby either. There’s plenty of food for classroom discussion in the book, including why the BRCA gene mutation should be of concern to men.

BIBLIO: 2015, Bloomsbury Children’s Books/Bloomsbury Plc, Ages 14 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-61963-341-4

ISBN: 978-1-61963-342-1

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The thing that ties these books together is the comfort they bring by assuring us that there is hope after all is said and done.  Enjoy.  Sarah