Close
Shopping Cart
Your Cart is Empty


Sarah's Blog

I review children's books from board books up the young adult for the Children's Comprehensive Database at childrenslit.com


Latest Blogs

<

How Did You Get to Be the Person You Are?

I can’t imagine anybody in high school not feeling like an outsider at some point. I expect even the athletic heroes and the cheerleaders and all the other so-called popular students don’t believe their good fortune in being well thought of. And I know from personal reflection through sixty-one years of life after high school that we nerds were better thought of than we’d ever believed. High school is hard emotionally, mentally, and physically. But most of us do make it through and discover that we’re better than we thought we were. These three books touch on those issues quite successfully in their own ways.

+++++++++++++++++++++++

Do you remember the girls in high school who were considered to be tramps? You were afraid to be friends with them because it might tarnish your image? I’m sure you do remember. And I’m sure you feel as I do that you should have tried to get to know at least one of them. I think we can all empathize with Hayden in this story.

Kissing Lessons: Learn from the Best

Sophie Jordan

Hayden, whether she wants to be or not, is considered the high school tramp. The supposedly good girls sneer at her behind her back and the boys lust after her. Because she comes from a less than stellar family background with a tramp of a mother, Hayden doesn’t think she deserves better treatment, but she also knows she’s more than what others think of her. Emmaline, the younger sister of Nolan, a guy Hayden finds attractive, asks her to give kissing lessons. In doing so, Hayden begins to have a friendlier relationship with Nolan. Through the journey of the book, all the characters learn how wrong it is to judge people by their appearances and what other people say about them. This is one of the better books about how hard it is to grow up and how easy it is to believe what others say. All the characters begin to show their true selves in this book, which is at times sad and dark and other times amusing. The reader will develop quite a lot of sympathy for Hayden and the other characters. This should be appealing to all teens as they struggle to find their places in the world.

BIBLIO: 2020, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, Ages 14 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 9781328977076

ISBN: 9780358067412

###################################

Maryland schools were being integrated the last two years I was in high school. My homeroom teacher was a very nice black woman having to deal with racism and she did it well. Religious differences were not discussed, though they were present I’m sure. After 911 fear of Muslims and the Islamic religion took a good section of center stage and, sadly, still does. This next book deals quite well with this subject.

The book also addresses the concern over hacking on websites.

No True Believers

Rabiah York Lumbard

Salma’s best friend, Mariam Muhammad, isn’t just moving away from their northern Virginia suburb, she’s moving to a different continent. Mariam’s family is moving because her father’s medical practice is losing patients prejudiced against him because he and his family are practicing Muslims as are Salma and her family. Then a new family moves into Mariam’s house and at first these seems nice, but then things begin to be weird. The book is well written and an important contribution to our country’s discussion of ethnic prejudice. It also sheds light on the need to not trust what we read on the internet at face value. People aren’t necessarily what they seem to be. We must be diligent in cross checking what we see to make sure we’re getting the whole truth. Salma learns important lessons about the computer hacking she’s been doing and the online so-called friendships she’s developed. The book presents lots of opportunities for classroom discussions on religion, computer information, and personal growth.

BIBLIO: 2020, Crown Books for Young Readers/Putnam Random House, Ages 14 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult Fiction

ISBN: 9780525644255

***********************

The third book I’ve selected has magic in it, but is primarily about finding one’s self during teenage years. There is a lot of whimsy in the story, but an understanding of loyalty and being one’s own unique person.

The Circus Rose

Betsy Cornwell

A book of magic and love and loyalty, the story is about fraternal twins, though in this case the girls should be rightly called “maternal” twins. Yes, they were born on the same day to the same mother, but to different fathers. Rose is an athletic redhead who loves performing aerial acrobatics. Ivory, the white-blonde twin, loves tinkering and designing new circus sets. Their mother’s circus is their life and their home, and the people of the circus are their family. The story tells of their journey toward self-awareness, with magical creatures like Bear and evil religious zealots to help or hinder them along their journey. The author weaves a good story which pulls the reader along. There are hints to folk/fairy tales like the Snow White and Sleeping Beauty and real-life issues such as finding one’s place in the world. The reader will become very fond of the characters and teachers will find much to discuss with their students.

BIBLIO: 2020, Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Ages 12 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Early Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-32816-3930-9

ISBN: 9780358164432

Be well and stay safe during our time of lock down. And enjoy reading all the books you’ve put aside for a rainy day. Here’s that day. As always I’d love to hear from you. Sarah


How Not to Write a Book if You’re Manic

My usual way of writing a book is to think out the blot in my head and then write it down, editing as I go. That way I have the skeleton of the story all ready to roll. Then as I write down what I’m thinking I go back and catch as many errors as I can.

That’s how I wrote my first two novels, Terror’s Identity and Emily’s Ride to Courage. The process took several years each, but I had a pretty clean copy to send to the publisher. Keep in mind that nobody’s perfect and errors do slip in.

As I was writing those books, I had my critique partners look at each chapter and give me ways to improve the story. Since my husband and I moved halfway through the writing time, I not only had my Maryland critique group help me but then my North Carolina group weighed in. Thanks to them all.

Also, while I was writing the stories, I did the research to make sure the stories rang true. What? You didn’t realize that fiction authors have to do research? With my first published novel, Terror’s Identity, I had the main character move from very-high-scale Lake Forest, Illinois, to not-even-close-to-high-scale Dundalk, Maryland, because I follow the old adage of get your main character into trouble and then make the trouble worse. I also had to research whether the U.S. Secret Service had anything to do with investigating terrorist groups in our country. Fortunately, one of my neighbors worked in the Secret Service and was very helpful.

For Emily’s Ride to Courage, I had to research more than I already knew about horses; easier, in a way, because we were living on our horse farm and I have studied about horses almost my whole life. Still, I had to make sure I had the medical parts correct. (Thank goodness for a friendly vet.) I also had to research American medical services being provided by Army personnel in Afghanistan where Emily’s mother goes missing.

Now on to how I wrote my third novel, Earthquakes. In November of 2018, I decided to write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November as part of that year’s NaNoWriMo challenge. Not something a manic person should ever do. Especially someone like me who likes to edit as she goes. But I put my editing aside and plowed ahead, writing 50,235 words by November 26th. (Good thing my handsome devil knows how to cook and is very supportive of my writing endeavors.)

Then I took a couple of days to bask in the glow of having accomplished my goal and to get my heart rate down to normal. Plus getting some much-needed sleep.

The next challenge was to see how much of the story made sense, where I needed to do research. Since the story takes place in 1942 Hollywood, CA, and though I was indeed alive and living there, I was only a bit older than one year. The people in my birth family couldn’t be of much help, being either dead or extremely forgetful, I had to go to history books and the internet. I also unearthed the family photo albums.

Then my critique groups and said Handsome Devil, told me what was working and what wasn’t. When it was done and people had given feedback, I sent the manuscript off to my favorite editor, Teresa Crumpton of AuthorSpark. She’s never steered me wrong and is a font of advice and information.

Fast forward to October 2019 and I sent the manuscript to a small indie publishing house that promptly turned me down. In part, they turned me down because I hadn’t edited the book as carefully as I should have. Though they kindly said it was too intense for their house.

Then I sent it to Jera Publishing and they expertly formatted the story for publication and designed a dynamite cover. But the editor there has the patience of Job since she has cheerfully made the changes I found each time I looked at the manuscript and hasn’t charged me a dime more. Even when the manuscript was sent to IngramSpark for printing, I found more errors. Now I think I’ve caught them all and the book will be a physical presence in hard copy and eBook formats on January 30th. But I will never write a book that way again. It’s best for me to plod along correcting as I go, so I’ll go back to plodding and keep the manic part at rest.

Thanks for reading. Please let me know what you think. Sarah





December  2019

Who Are You? And Why Does that Matter?

Each of us is the same as the other, but each of us is also different. The differences may make us shy or may embolden us. How we deal with our sameness and our differences is what makes us unique.

If you have strong desires and an independent spirit, it’s hard to follow the rules. And you can be ridiculed for it, even if you aren’t shy.

A Pinch of Magic

Michelle Harrison

Three sisters live in a place called Crowstone which has three small islands just off its coast. On one end of the area is a misty, moisty marsh which perhaps harbors sprites and other scary beings. The townspeople are frightened of the area, but Betty, the middle sister, wants to go on adventures including going across the marsh. The girls have been told they will die if they leave the confines of Crowstone, but Betty thinks it’s malarky. That it’s just stories Granny tells to keep the girls in check. Granny tells them of the curse they live under and gives them each a magical object. Betty thinks that if they combine their magic, they can break the curse and be free to roam wherever they wish. Not as easy as it might seem she discovers, especially when they accidentally set free an evil convict from the island prison. The story is told in an endearing style, though the writer and editors could have paid a bit closer attention to correct grammar. Betty and her sisters Felicity and Charlie, using their native wits and bravery, overcome many obstacles and end up in a better place than they could have imagined. Teachers can use the book to inspire discussion of overcoming difficult problems.

BIBLIO: 2020, Books for Young Readers, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Ages 8 to 12, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 9780358193319

ISBN: 9780358272921

The second book is about how you continue to love a parent even if you don’t condone what he’s done and what he’s doing.

Running

Natalia Sylvester

Mariana Ruiz’s life has turned into an ongoing drama in which she no longer has any privacy. Anything she says or does comes out in the national news because her father is running for president in the national primaries. He and Mami spend all of their time—at least it seems that way to fifteen-year-old Mari—writing speeches and traveling on the campaign trail. Mari and her younger brother, Ricky, are made to participate in local Miami events and it’s wearing on her. She feels she lost her parents and their support. That she and Ricky don’t really matter anymore except as campaign photo-op props. But then she discovers Papi’s biggest contributor is a less than scrupulous real estate developer who is polluting the water and destroying neighborhoods. Not only that Papi helped make it possible when he passed legislation as a state senator that allowed sewage to be dumped into the aquifer. Now Mariana has to come to grips with the fact that her father is not who she thought he was. With the help of friends, she gets involved in a student movement demanding that water pollution stop and that big developers are called to account for the damage they’ve done. She grows during the story, learning that she can speak out and that she can challenge her father. This is quite a compelling story with a great deal of relevance in modern American life. Teachers can have a field day choosing topics with which to encourage their students to think for themselves. Plus, the reader gets to learn some Spanish along the way.

BIBLIO: 2020, Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Ages 12 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978035124351

ISBN: 978035830806


Shyness in children is an ongoing problem. The main character in the previous story is shy but learns to blossom. In a different way, the main character in the next story learns to overcome her shyness.

Vivaldi

Helge Torvund

Illustrated by Mari Kandstad Johnsen

Translated by Jeanie Shaterian and Thilo Reinhard

Tyra is shy and doesn’t know how to communicate with others, but begins to blossom when she gets a kitten. Though she may not be able in interact with other people, she can talk to her new cat. And she can interact with the world when playing her piano. She names the cat Vivaldi. At school, Tyra doesn’t play with other children and doesn’t participate in her class so her classmates whisper behind her back and tease her. With the help of Vivaldi, Tyra begins to come out of her shell. This lovely story is told in poetic form and should be read in a gentle, quiet voice that will comfort children and make them understand that lots of people are shy. And that lots of people feel as they do. The illustrations are simplistic in a way, but fit the style of the story quite well.

BIBLIO: 2019 (orig. 2011,) New York Review of Books, Ages 4 to 7, $15.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-68137-374-4

Last day of January, 2020!

Bear with me figuring out how to scan and add pictures. Haven't quite mastered the art of it. But here is a view of the covers for  these reviews. Thanks, Sarah

Indians, Native Americans, American Indians, or First People

The first people of the continent go by many names. Grouped together, white people have called them various names and lumped the various tribes and nations under some ugly titles. But as a whole, Native Americans are quite diverse. Some are settled farmers, some are wanderers, some are bellicose and some are peaceful, just like the rest of humanity. As a group the first people have always fascinated me. Maybe in part because my paternal grandmother told me we had Cherokee blood flowing in our veins. Looking at her, you could well believe that, since she was a raven-haired beauty with a mischievous sparkle in her eye. My fair-skinned, red-haired visage doesn’t really conjure up a connection. However, people do comment that I have high cheekbones, indicating a possibility. I’d like to think so, especially since I’ve always felt a connection to the rest of nature.

I selected a series entitled “First Peoples” to review. The series is diverse, not just concentrating on some of the Plains group, but also talking about Eastern groups. Perhaps the Western tribes and the Canadian and Central/South American tribes will be talked about in future books, along with the rest of the Plains and Eastern Groups.

I like that the series is called “First People,” since that’s how most think of themselves. Like the rest of humanity, the tribes have creations myths just as complex as more modern religions and most have similar elements in them. The Cheyenne are a Plains group, or at least when white people descended upon them. They may have migrated from somewhere else.

First Peoples: Cheyenne

Valerie Bodden

American Indians or Native Americans or First Peoples, no matter how someone describes them, these peoples were the first known human dwellers of North and South America, so it’s nice to have books describing them to the new generations now living in this hemisphere. Never a singular group of people going by different names, the groups had different cultures and systems of government. Some of the groups carried on wars, or at least skirmishes with other tribes. The focus of this book is about the Cheyenne, who are Plains Indians, from the middle of what is now the United States of America. Their name, Shawnee, is from a Sioux word meaning “people of a different speech.” But the Cheyenne call themselves Tsitsistas, which means simply “the people.” Originally, they were farmers before they moved to the plains. They lived in bands and had four chiefs. They had tepees, which they packed up and moved from place to place. The book has many such facts and doesn’t shy away from the damage white settlers did to them and their way of life. Again, the photographs are spectacular. Teachers will find many ways to incorporate the simple text into their lessons. Be sure to pick up the whole series, “Peoples of the Land.”

BIBLIO: 2020, Creative Education/Creative Company, Ages 6 +, $20.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Nonfiction Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-64026-223-2

Judging from the translation of their tribal name, the Comanche have a reputation for being belligerent, though they think of themselves simply as “our people.” But even though they were wanderers, they had concise rules and government.

First Peoples: Comanche

Valerie Bodden

American Indians or Native Americans or First Peoples, no matter how someone describes them, these peoples were the first known human dwellers of North and South America, so it’s nice to have books describing them to the new generations now living in this hemisphere. Never a singular group of people going by different names, the groups had different cultures and systems of government. Some of the groups carried on wars, or at least skirmishes with other tribes. The focus of this book is the Comanche, who are Plains Indians, from the middle of what is now the United States of America. Their name, Comanche, is from a Ute word meaning “anyone who wants to fight me all the time..” But the Comanche call themselves Nermernuh, which means simply “our people.” They lived in small bands run by a head chief and a council. Like the Cheyenne, they had tepees, which they packed up and moved from place to place. They had many horses and moved frequently to give the animals good pasture. They hunted on horseback. The book has many such facts and doesn’t shy away from the damage white settlers did to them and their way of life. Again, the photographs are spectacular. Teachers will find many ways to incorporate the simple text into their lessons. Be sure to pick up the whole series, “Peoples of the Land.”

BIBLIO: 2020, Creative Education/Creative Company, Ages 6 +, $20.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Nonfiction Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-64026-224-9

The third book in the series describes a more sedentary group from the southwest who lived in pueblos and are, to this day, farmers and herders.

First Peoples: Hopi

Valerie Bodden

American Indians or Native Americans or First Peoples, no matter how someone describes them, these peoples were the first known human dwellers of North and South America, so it’s nice to have books describing them to the new generations now living in this hemisphere. This was never a singular group of people going by different names. The groups had different cultures and systems of government. This book in this series is about the Hopi who live in the North American southwest. Their name means “peaceful people,” and they are considered by other tribes to be “the oldest of the people.” They are farmers and artisans who have lived at the edge of the Painted Desert for more than 1,000 years. The photos of the people and the area they live in a breathtaking. The photos of their weavings, pottery and textiles are quite appealing. The harm that Spanish priest did to these cultures and then the harm the other white cultures did is horrifying and it’s nice to see it mentioned in these books. Teachers will find many ways to incorporate the simple text into their lessons. Be sure to pick up the whole series, “Peoples of the Land.”

BIBLIO: 2020, Creative Education/Creative Company, Ages 6 +, $20.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Nonfiction Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-64026-225-6

And the final book in the series that I’ve reviewed is about an Eastern group. They, like so many of the East Coast groups, were farmers and hunters. Any kid who was a girl scout or boy scout probably went to a summer camp where the cabins were named after various tribes. I’d like to think that my cabin was called the Shawnee, but I sure don’t remember.

First Peoples: Shawnee

Valerie Bodden

American Indians or Native Americans or First Peoples, no matter how someone describes them, these peoples were the first known human dwellers of North and South America, so it’s nice to have books describing them to the new generations now living in this hemisphere. Never a singular group of people going by different names, the groups had different cultures and systems of government. Some of the groups carried on wars, or at least skirmishes with other tribes. The focus of this book is about the Shawnee, who were originally from the eastern part of what is now the United States. Their name, Shawnee, is from a word meaning “southerners.” They lived south of other tribes speaking similar languages. Their homes were amongst forests and close to rivers or other inland water sources. They lived in villages protected by two chiefs and a religious leader called a shaman. Each family lived in a wigwam, some of which were made of logs and animal hides. But they also had traveling wigwams that the families could take on hunting expeditions. These consisted of massive pieces of tree bark, some of which were warped to curve toward the top, and held together by a system of limbs curved to stabilize the structure. The Shawnee soldiers painted their bodies in elaborate designs before they went into battle. The women farmed during the growing season and they gathered wild fruits and nuts. Their clothing was usually decorated with beadwork or feathers. Teachers will find many ways to incorporate the simple text into their lessons. Be sure to pick up the whole series, “Peoples of the Land.”

BIBLIO: 2020, Creative Education/Creative Company, Ages 6 +, $20.95.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Nonfiction Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-64026-228-7

As a final note, I’m trying very hard to get my new website up and running, but don’t know how much success I’ve had. Please let me know if you can get on it and what you think. Thanks, Sarah