Review: The Fairy Swarm by Suzanne Selfors

I’m a little over two weeks late with my final book for the January Project, but The Fairy Swarm may be my favorite of the bunch.  It took a little longer to finish this book because my 8 year old and I have been reading this together at his bedtime. My 12 year old finished it in an afternoon and I suspect my son finished it long before he and I snuggled up for the last chapter.

The Fairy Swarm is the sixth and (it appears) final book in the excellent “Imaginary Veterinary” series. I really hope it isn’t the last of these characters because I have adored every book in this series, and more importantly, my kids love them too.

In this installment, a swarm of fairies escape the imaginary world and cause lots of trouble in the known world, specifically the town of Buttonville. Ben and Pearl, as assistants to the only Imaginary Veterinarian around, must help capture the fairies before the townspeople become suspicious. When the town’s resident busybody, Mrs. Mulberry calls in an exterminator to rid the town of killer bees, it gets harder and harder for Ben and Pearl to protect the secrets of the imaginary world.  This is a fitting end to the series, although it leaves the door open for my son and I to hope for a special edition follow-up or two. (Please read this Suzanne Selfors.)

The Fairy Swarm delivered on everything I love about this series. The heroes, Pearl and Ben, are both ten years old and they act like real kids. Sometimes, they are smart, sometimes they make bad decisions. Sometimes they are brave, sometimes scared. Sometimes they get their feelings hurt and sometimes, they hurt someone else’s feelings. The emotional landscape of these stories has prompted a lot of conversations in my house. We use moments where the characters feel lonely, clever, angry, patient, scared, bored, curious and so on to discuss times they feel the same way. As a parent, this is huge.

The books also offer terrific insight into friendship. Pearl and Ben come from different backgrounds (Los Angeles resident Ben is visiting his grandfather for the summer; Pearl has never left the town of Buttonville). Neither has lots of friends, but both have good hearts. Pearl often tumbles into action before thinking, whereas Ben tends to think before speaking, but  both learn to appreciate the other’s approach.

Furthermore, Suzanne Selfors is a terrific author. The pacing keeps busy kids wanting to turn the page and the writing is at once clear and vocabulary stretching.

Kids will be motivated to read these stories for the humor and the mythical creatures occupying every page.  Who doesn’t love a good Sasquatch? The titles reveal a primary legendary creature for each book, but many more occupy the pages. Fairies, Dragons, Satyrs, Unicorns, lake monsters and more need veterinary care. The blend of fantasy and real world is charming. Although, thanks to these books, if I ever do run into Big Foot, I know exactly what I’ll need to capture him and turn him into a yoga partner.

I haven’t posted many buy links, but here are links for The Fairy Swarm if you need to buy online, otherwise, beg your local library or independent bookseller to stock it for you.

Amazon

Barnes&Noble

 

My best reads of 2014

In the annual tradition of useless best of lists, I hereby present my best reads for 2014. As per my reading habits, this does not mean books that came out this year, only books I read for the first time over the past twelve months.

As I reviewed my reading list for the year, a couple of generalities jumped out. First, I enjoyed a number of shorter works. I also started a lot of crap novellas and short stories that weren’t worth finishing. Second, there are some terrific books appropriate for middle schoolers out there. Gail Carriger, Rebecca Stead and Nick Bruel are far more age level appropriate than was the Stephen King I devoured at age 11–which was about the age I was when I first read The Shining. What goes around, comes around…

Without further ado:

10) Bad Kitty Drawn to Trouble – Nick Bruel – Once again, Bruel takes a complicated subject (in this case story craft) and breaks it down into easy to understand components all while engaging in a battle of wills with Bad Kitty. I will read his Bad Kitty books even when my kids outgrown them.

9) Fiend – Peter Stenson – Audio book read by Tom Haberkorn. I specify audio book, because I understand some people take issue with the grammar. The narrator, Tom Haberkorn brought a manic energy to Peter Stenson’s tale of a zombie apocalypse. The survivors are all meth-heads who will succumb to the zombie disease if they don’t get their fix. This book is as close as I wish to get to the urgent crush of addiction.

8) Austinland – Shannon Hale – plenty of authors have tried to write a regency and played with the tropes of Jane Austin’s books and life with varying degrees of success, but Hale’s view of Jane Austin theme park flaunts the anachronism and absurdity of an obsession with all things Austin. I picked this up because of the publication backstory. The content beat my expectations and kudos to Hale for sticking with her vision.

7) The Boys of Summer – Sarah Madison – The historical M/M romance read as part of 2014’s January Project stayed with me all year. I read a handful of other M/M historical in literary and romance categories. John Boyne’s The Absolutist got more attention, but Madison’s was the superior book both in character and story execution.

6) Gulp – Mary Roach – I’ve said it before and I hope I will say it again, I will follow Mary Roach anywhere her curious mind takes her. I laughed and learned, even through the squeamish bits.

5) Dr. Sleep – Stephen King – The man is the master. And I expect a sequel featuring the grown up Abra Stone in about twenty years.

4) Marshlands – Matthew Olshan – In this slim volume of a story told in reverse order hides beautiful language, history lessons and thoughtful meditations on colonialism, otherness, dictatorships, war, brutality, torture and forgiveness. This book deserves a wider audience.

3) Etiquette and Espionage – Gail Carriger – Is it literary sacrilege to say I’d rather attend Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality than Hogwarts? This steam punk adventure follows young Sophronia’s as she and her mechanimal navigate the floating school, avoid Picklemen, and learn how to kill someone with a handkerchief.

2) Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn – It lives up to the hype and is better than the movie.

1) We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson – this book has been around since 1962. HOW DID I NOT KNOW OF ITS EXISTANCE PRIOR TO 2014!!!!! An instant all-time favorite.

Honorable Mentions:

Fun for the whole family edition: The Sasquatch Escape, and The Lonely Lake Monster both Suzanne Selfors, When you Reach me – Rebecca Stead

Short Story edition: Bug Stuff – Vicki Batman – for a quick laugh, La Llorona – Leslie Garcia – a haunting ghost story.

Other contenders: Lost in Shangri-La – Mitchell Zuckoff, Bad Traveler – Lola Karns, January Thaw – Jess Lourey, Shine, Shine, Shine – Lydia Netzer

Any suggestions for next year’s reading? Post them below.

Kids, boxes and wonder

It’s been so long since I posted, I bet you forgot about me. Sorry. I’ve been busy doing things away from the keyboard. This past weekend, I went to one of the coolest school functions I think I’ve ever seen, so of course, I remembered you and wanted to share the moment.

For the past six weeks, my daughter has been all abuzz about the “Cardboard Carnival.” Under the guidance of Ms. Lunetta, students in the Vision 21 program used recycled and found materials to create games. The whole thing was inspired by “Caine’s Arcade” and the Imagination Foundation.

Some of the students made their games during the school day working in groups of two or three or even doing solo creations. Other students worked outside of the school day and had access to some way cool duct tape. The arcade games varied in size from hand held marble tilt mazes to ones that towered over six feet tall. The designs ranged from the simple to the complex.

I don’t like to post pics of the kiddos here, but I have to share a few of my favorite designs.

This game is the inspiration for one we will do at a birthday party.

This game is the inspiration for one we will do at a birthday party.

This game had motion in addition to the bold color

This game had motion in addition to the bold color

My daughter's football toss - described as "so hard but so fun I want to play again and get a better score" by more than one player.

My daughter’s football toss – described as “so hard but so fun I want to play again and get a better score” by more than one player.

Kids of all ages (and yes, I’m including myself) had so much fun. The inventors loved showing off their creations almost as much as I enjoyed playing the games. My son didn’t want to leave, but he’s excited he can play his big sister’s game anytime he wants at home.  Better yet, my children have sat foreheads together and paper in front of them plotting how to make an even better game for next year.

A huge thanks to Principal Brad Gustafson, Ms. Lunetta and all of the participants who made this such a terrific day of play.

What do they do? Tales from a school volunteer

Since September, I’ve volunteered bi-weekly in my daughter’s second grade class.  Seeing the inner workings of her class room brightens my day.  Her teacher is wonderful, friendly and fun, but firm. She leads the class with confidence. Over the course of the year, I’ve seen the children blossom under her guidance. Ms Turner knows how to bring out the best in each child and I’m grateful my daughter has been part of her class.

But one thing still mystifies me. What do those children do to those pencils?

After sharpening the pencils once early in the school year, I realized that is an easy task for me to start on when Ms. Turner is busy instructing the class. It is a tedious task, but I don’t mind it since the school has an electric pencil sharpener. I’ve watched the pencils dwindle in number, even discarding a few myself as the stubs became too short to feed to the whirring blades of the sharpener. It pleases me that the children use them so much. I see them scribbling away in notebooks or working on math pages when I visit, but sharpening the pencils reminds me how much work they do as they learn.

But evidence of tooth marks tell me they sometimes suffer anxiety. By now, most pencils feature multiple bite marks. I picture the children I’ve come to know putting the pencil in their mouth as they apply “strategies” to their science or math tests.  Perhaps the kinetic learners need this gesture in order to get their thoughts in order, for others it’s nerves.

Most worrisome of all are the pencils whose severely dented metal ends and lack of erasers indicate a number of parents will one day pay for braces.  My daughter assures me she doesn’t chew on the metal, but she said nothing about chomping down on erasers. At least she cleared up one mystery for me.  Last week she informed me the boys beside her bothered her by competing to see who could break a pencil first.  Now I know why I discarded four jagged stubs today.