To Be or not to Be

Should we always follow the path seemingly meant for us? I’m not sure I ever had a path meant for me, but I doubt that I followed it. In any event, the characters in these stories took different paths. Hope you enjoy them.

 

Ice Boy

David Ezra Stein

Illustrated by David Ezra Stein

What happens when you don’t want what others expect you to want? How far can you go toward your goals? Ice Boy loves his family, and loves to play with them, though he’s not fond of the tough ice cubes at the back of the freezer. But he doesn’t think his ultimate goal should be providing coolness to somebody’s drink. Nor does he want to be in a cold compress for some injury. Instead he wants to explore the world. He wants to stand in the sun, even though his doctor told not to. He goes to the beach and rolls into the ocean, where, slowly but surely, he becomes water boy. He is part of a wave and then another wave, until finally he washes up onto somebody’s beach towel. The sun slowly turns him into vapor boy and carries him up to the clouds. He goes so high, he becomes a drop of water, but then he is high enough to freeze into an ice cube. A storm drops him out of the sky and into someone’s drink at his very own house.  His parents are in the drink with him, but when the person takes a sip, he tastes Ice Boy first and decides the cube doesn’t taste good. Out on to lawn, Ice Boy and his parents are launched. His parents worry what will become of them, but their son says, “Let’s find out.” This is a clever way to teach children about what can happen to water. The illustrations are playful and appealing.

BIBLIO: 2017, Candlewick Press, Ages 5 to 8, $15.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-0-7636-8203-3

 

The second story was wonderfully done, even though it took me a bit of time to figure we weren’t in modern times. I could easily picture the old comedian with his old poodle.

 

Mort Ziff Is Not Dead

Cary Fagan

In the fall of 1965, Norman Fishbein wins $1000 for guessing the correct number Doozy Dots in a jar. Even his two older brothers are nice to him for a change while he decides what to do with his prize money. In the end, he doesn’t give the money to his folks to repair the roof. Instead, he pays for the whole family to go to Miami Beach, Florida, during the Christmas holiday. At first, the family is stunned, but then they all get into the mood. Mr. and Mrs. Fishbein say they’ll pay for the extras like food and other stuff not included in air travel and hotel rooms expenses. Norman’s brothers are actually a little kinder to him. They are thrilled to be out of wintery Canada for a week. The first day in Miami, the family is enjoying the pool when they spot an elderly gentleman dressed in a black suit, wandering around the deck area carrying a miniature poodle. Turns out he’s a comedian named Mort Ziff.  He was quite the character in his younger days. Norman’s father is thrilled to see him, having thought Mort died years ago. The boys are threatened by three sisters about the same ages as Norman and his brothers swim in the hotel pool. The older two girls and Norman’s brothers challenge each other to duels. But Norman and Amy, the youngest sister, don’t really want to fight. They’d rather just hang out in the ratty old coffee shop drinking milk shakes. They end up saving their new friend, Mort Ziff, from being fired and kicked out of his room at the hotel. The book is amusing, though it wasn’t readily apparent what decade this took place in.

BIBLIO: 2017, Puffin/Penguin Canada Books Inc/Penguin Random House, Ages 8 to 12, $15.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-0-14-319847-5

ISBN: 978-0-14-319849-9

 

When I was a child, comic books had bodybuilder ads in them. “Don’t be the 90 pound weakling who loses his girlfriend.” Instead become a bodybuilder. There was usually a picture of a skinny guy getting sand kicked into his face by a boorish bully. Then the next picture was of Mr. Skinny looking like Mr. Hulk and all the girls swooning over him. See what you missed out on by being born later than I?

Strong as Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth

Don Tate

Illustrated by Don Tate

Eugene Sandow was a scrawny, sickly child named Friedrich Wilhelm Müller, but he soon learned what he wanted was to be a body builder. Though his father was not pleased, Friedrich followed his dream. He worked and worked on developing more muscle and finally decided he wanted to become the strongest man on Earth. It wasn’t easy, but he kept at it until he was, indeed, the strongest man on Earth. He decided that he also needed to improve his showmanship and changed his name to Eugene Sandow. He traveled the world showing off his physique. He wrote books and magazine articles on how to be a strong man. He opened a gym and designed his own muscle-building equipment and techniques. After a much-needed rest, Eugene started a competition for bodybuilders. An interesting twist to this story is about the author, Don Tate, who was a bodybuilder in his own right. At the end of the book are illustrations of simple exercises to keep your body strong and flexible, even if you don’t want to be the Strongest Person in the World. This is a very inspiring book and has many opportunities for starting classroom discussions. It’s thought-provoking to note that the illustrations were digitally created using Manga Studio.

BIBLIO: 2017, Charlesbridge, Ages 6 to 8, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 9781580896283

ISBN: 9781607348863

ISBN: 9781607348870

 

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.