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.


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


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


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


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.

Changing Weather

            The east coast of North Carolina was inundated with rain this past weekend—much more than usual. On an eastern peninsula jutting out along the Neuse River south of New Bern, we got 5.85” of rain from Friday, August 1st through Monday, August 4th. That’s a lot of rain! It flooded the areas behind and to the side of our house, making a lake aptly dubbed Swan Lake by our neighbors. The geese, frogs and lizards are all happy at the moment; you can’t hear yourself think if you venture out at night because of the noise.

            All the rain made me think about why the weather patterns have changed so much over the past few decades, which prompted me to present reviews of books about the environmental events on our planet.



           Being the fair-skinned, scaredy-cat that I am, lying on the beach under a broiling sun, covered with sunblock pasted with sand is not my idea of fun. And, though I like to walk along the beach at surf edge, I’m not fond of being bowled over by waves, so you’d think I’d just stay away. But, as far as I’m concerned, the best way in the world to fall asleep is being lulled by the shush of gentle surf and the salty warmth of an ocean breeze.


100 Things You Should Know about the Seashore

Steve Parker

Consultant: Camilla de la Bedoyere

            Did you know there are seashores all over the planet—from pole to pole and every where in between? Each seashore has its own ecosystem of plants and animals. Where the salty ocean meets the land affects the terrain and type of beach. This book gives brief, but good, descriptions of the various types of environments. For instance, several bits of information describe how the action of the waves eats away at the land and there is a simple experiment to try which help the reader visualize the erosion in action. The sidebars scattered through the book give extra information, but perhaps should have been titled differently—“I Don’t Believe It!” lends an air of doubt to the information. The data is divided into sections dealing with the coastal land, battle between land and sea, types of coastline, ecosystems and people’s affect on shorelines. It is our job to protect the land and sea on our planet and we’re not doing a great job. The experiments scattered through out the book are interesting and helpful. The graphics and photos are clear and helpful, making the book a useful tool in tweaking students’ interest in marine studies, but bibliography, even a short one, would help. This is one of fifteen “100 Things You Should Know…” books exploring various subjects, including mythology and legends.

BIBLIO: 2011 (orig. 2010,) Mason Crest Publishers Inc., Ages 8 to 12, $19.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan;

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-1-4222-2006-1

ISBN: 978-1-4222-1993-5


            When we lived in Jacksonville, Alabama, the main shopping town was about 10 miles away. The highway to it was a straight shot to Anniston, but we had to pass south of Pell City—tornado central for the part of Alabama. One summer evening I was driving our four children to Anniston during a thunderstorm and just as we passed south of Pell City, the sky turned solar-eclipse black and what sounded like a high-speed train roared overhead. Sure enough, the next thing we heard on the radio was that Pell City had been by yet another tornado. That’s as close as I ever want to get to one.

Anatomy of a Tornado

Terri Dougherty

            The natural world of our planet is capable of many awe-inspiring, fearful events and a tornado is among the most amazing occurrences. This book is part of a series discussing disasters and starts with photos and a description of a tornado’s destructive force. (It really does sound like a fast-moving train roaring overhead.) Tornadoes need certain storm conditions to form, which are clearly and graphically described through the use of illustrations and highlighted explanations. There is also a clever experiment using a role of paper towels to let the reader comprehend how a tornado develops. Concise photos of tornadic activity from start to finish give good visual understanding of the storm’s shape. The book also explains away myths about twisters and shows ways of staying safe during a tornado. These destructive forces can occur anywhere and at any time, although they tend to be more prevalent at certain times of the day and year. Photos of the devastation caused by a tornado are breath taking. The book is a good jumping off point for a science teacher’s discussion of weather and its affects on humans and the planet.

BIBLIO: 2011, Velocity/Capstone Press, Ages 8 +, $30.65.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan;

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-1-4296-5494-4

ISBN: 978-1-4296-6281-9



            Volcanoes are amazing and probably thrilling as well as scary to witness. My father once had a story rejected because the editor didn’t believe Daddy’s description of a volcanic eruption. Having spent a number of years in Hawaii growing up, he, of course, witnessed several eruptions and probably knew more about it than the editor.

Volcano Alert!

Paul Challen

            Some people spend their whole lives keeping an eye on the “sleeping giant” hovering over their land. Some volcanoes erupt with regularity, flinging molten rock high in the air or oozing a steady stream down the mountain side. Others, like Mount St. Helen in Oregon, slumber for more than a century before erupting. There are a lot of interesting tidbits of information tucked into this brief overview of volcanic activity and many of the photos are spectacular. Plus, who wouldn’t want to make a volcano? The reader will learn about the four types of volcanoes, the type of rock they make and myths related to why volcanoes erupt. The word volcano comes from the Roman myth that their god Vulcan sent up molten rock and metal as he worked at his forge making weapons. Volcanoes coat everything in their paths with ash or lava, destroying villages and trees, but they also are responsible for building new islands in some parts of the world. Although the reader might be inspired to learn more after reading this Guided Reading Level Q book, there is no bibliography except for a couple of websites.

BIBLIO: 2011, Crabtree Publishing Company, Ages 8 to 10, $8.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan;

FORMAT: Chapter Book

ISBN: 978-0-7787-1595-5

ISBN: 978-0-7787-1628-0



            Even though we had a lot of rain this past weekend, my husband’s California family has been suffering from a 3-year drought. Whatever you think about what’s causing the changed weather patterns, we all need to be aware that changes are occurring and take care with how we manage our resources. This last book is about conserving water. There is, after all, a finite supply.

Water Wise

Alison Hawes

            One in a series of books put out by Crabtree Connections teaching about history, medicine and the environment among other things, this brief paperback discusses water and the ways we can use it more wisely. For instance, only 3% of all water on our planet is drinkable, yet people routinely waste gallons while brushing their teeth or watering the lawn—especially people in wealthy countries. People in poor countries frequently have improper sanitation and can get deadly diseases such as cholera or dysentery because their water supplies are polluted. The book contains much useful information, but nothing really entices middle-grade children to care. Perhaps relating water shortages to lack of a swimming pool or only being able to wash one’s hair or taking a full bath once a week with water the whole family has to share, would give children more of an appreciation for the water problems the world is facing. Simple experiments would also drive the point home. However, teachers will certainly find value in using the information as a starting point in discussing the Earth’s water resources.

BIBLIO: 2011, Crabtree Publishing Company, Age 8 to 12, $8.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan;

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-0-7787-9925-2

ISBN: 978-0-7787-9904-7