Book Review: Rat Rule 79 by Rivka Galchen

Rat Rule 79 cover image

On the eve of her 13th birthday, Fred has a fight with her mom. The two are settling in after yet another move and Fred is angry that she once again has to start over with making friends and forging a life. When she goes to her room she’s too angry to sleep. In the morning she leaves her room to see something totally unexpected: her mom steps through a paper lantern and disappears. When Fred follows, an adventure begins.

Rat Rule 79: An Advenure by Rivka Galchen is an inventive tale of Fred’s journey to find her mom in a fantasy land where a Rat Queen rules. With the help of her new friends, Downer the elephant and Gogo the mongoose, Fred has to learn the myriad rules of what’s allowed and not allowed while she searches. Ultimately she hopes to heal the relationship between the rat queen and her beloved adopted deer and return to a normal life.

Similar to Alice in Wonderland and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Rat Rule 79 is about a child trying to find her way during a confusing time of life. The characters she meets on her quest all help her gain insight to something that confuses or troubles her as she navigates perils and helps those around her as well as herself.

Illustrations by Elena Megalos are rendered in shades of gray and red, giving them a dreamy quality to go along with the compelling narrative. Rat Rule 79 is sure to delight readers both young and old. I recommend it for ages 10 and up.

The author provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Why Longfellow Lied by Jeff Lantos

The story of Paul Revere’s ride to warn the countryside about British troops is well known lore. Especially about how this patriot waited for the lanterns to shine in the belfry tower, one if by land, two if by sea, before he started his journey. But what if the facts don’t match up to the story?

Why Longfellow Lied: The Truth About Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride by Jeff Lantos delves into the myth that has grown around Revere’s actions and how that myth was influenced by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem about that night.

Lantos starts with an intro that includes a cast of characters, gives background on what was happening in Boston during revolutionary times, and reprints Longfellow’s poem in its entirety. Then he examines the poem chapter by chapter to compare what Longfellow said with what the historical record actually shows.

Anyone who loves history will appreciate this approach that compares the time a historical event occurred to the time a poem about it was written. The author ties it all together by talking about what Longfellow hoped to achieve by poeticizing the facts while remaining true to the spirit of the event.

Why Longfellow Lied is a fascinating story that untangles a bit of history in a way that is sure to appeal to many readers aged 9 to 12.

The author provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Tori Eldridge Talks About the Mother-Daughter Relationship in a Bi-Racial Family

Tori Eldridge photo

Tori Eldridge is the Anthony, Lefty, and Macavity Awards-nominated author of the Lily Wong mystery thriller series—The Ninja DaughterThe Ninja’s BladeThe Ninja Betrayed—and the upcoming dark Brazilian fantasy, Dance Among the Flames (out May 2022).

She also has shorter works that appear in horror, dystopian, and other literary anthologies, including the inaugural reboot of Weird Tales magazine. Her screenplay The Gift was a Nicholl Fellowship semi-finalist. Here she talks about the challenges of the mother-daughter relationship, particularly in a biracial family, and how her own experiences have influenced her writing.

To find out more about Tori, visit

Here’s her essay:

Lily Wong has a complicated relationship with her mother that stems from unresolved filial obligation, devastating grief, secrets Lily keeps, and the added cultural complexity of a biracial Asian-American daughter and a Chinese-national mother from Hong Kong. Although Lily isn’t me and my Chinese-Hawaiian mother was most certainly not like hers, I drew a great deal from my own mother-daughter relationship to write about them in The Ninja Daughter, The Ninja’s Blade, and The Ninja Betrayed.

My mother was an adventurous loner who played by herself as child, climbed (and fell out of) trees, swam in sugar plantation ditches, and explored the neighborhood around her Wailuku River home. After the end of World War II, she flew to Tokyo for work during the occupation, where she met and married my father, a young Norwegian lieutenant from North Dakota, and gave birth to my two elder sisters. She must have used up her sociability quota during those exciting times as a young wife and mother because when I finally came along in Honolulu, the beach trips and picnics had stopped, and I was admonished to learn to play by myself—unfortunate since I was a profoundly lonely child.

When I first created Lily Wong’s character and explored her relationship with Ma, many of my issues and experiences with my own mother pressed into my mind. Some of them fit with Lily’s situation. Most of them did not. What did come through were the core emotions of yearning, frustration, miscommunication, and our mother’s shared tendency to speak the unvarnished truth.

To make sure that I wouldn’t impose my personal issues and distinct Chinese-in-Hawaii experience onto Los Angeles-born Lily Wong and her Hongkonger mother, I interviewed many of my Chinese-American friends about their own upbringings, especially those raised by immigrant parents. It fascinated me to note all the many cultural similarities amidst the individual differences.

Chinese mothers are notorious for blunt comments and bruising critiques, made all the more effective when shot between calculated silence and inscrutable expressions. Filial duty and obligation work behind the scenes to influence attitudes and (often confounding!) behaviors. After numerous conversations—and tears of laughter—I had a deep cultural pool from which to create Lily’s relationship with Ma.

Although the Lily Wong books are gritty mystery thrillers, they are also a journey between daughter and mother. The challenge for me has been to find the perfect balance between family dynamics, intrigue, and action. It’s not something I had ever read in a novel, but it was essential for the series I wanted to write.

In The Ninja Daughter (book one), Lily and Ma cope with buried grief and the walls they have erected to protect their emotions. Their relationship is further complicated by Lily’s secret life rescuing and protecting women and children from violent situations. To Lily’s employers at the women’s shelter and those she has saved, she is a tireless champion for those in need. To her mother, Lily is a troubled young woman with no job, no friends, and an aborted university education.

In the second book, The Ninja’s Blade, Lily’s grandparents visit from Hong Kong to “celebrate” her mother’s fiftieth birthday. The visit causes great anxiety for Ma and gives Lily an opportunity to see her mother in the role of a daughter. The change in perspective has a noticeable impact on Lily. The more she knows; the more empathy she feels. So when her mother is summoned to Hong Kong, Lily is happy to escort her in The Ninja Betrayed.

Three generations of Wong women under one roof during stressful times forces my fictitious characters into conflict and growth. It wasn’t easy for me to write, and it’s not easy for them to live. But the relationships between mothers and daughters are too precious for a modern-day ninja like Lily and me not to make the effort and fight.

Book Review: Once Upon a Camel by Kathi Appelt

Once Upon a Camel cover image

Zada has seen adventure in her long life, racing as one of the Pasha of Smyrna’s elite camels, trekking across the American southwest for the US Army, and facing down a mob of mustangs bent on trampling a cougar pup. But now she’s content to leave her adventures behind and rest in the West Texas desert with a kestrel family for company. That all changes when a massive dust storm as big as a mountain, a haboob, begins to blow on her little home. Can she muster one more trip to save some chicks and reunite with her friends?

Once Upon a Camel by Kathi Appelt is a delightful tale of friendship, love, devotion, and hope. Appelt is a master storyteller, seamlessly weaving in facts about camels, the desert, Smyrna, kestrels, historical info, and more into the tender narrative.

Kathi Appelt on a camel
Author Kathi Appelt

At the center of it all is sweet Zada, a camel who shelters two kestrel chicks in the scruff of fur on top of her head during the storm and works to get them safely to the mission after it ends. To keep the birds calm while they wait to reunite with their parents, she tells them stories of her life with her best friend Asiye in Smyrna and beyond.

I loved reading about Zada and her stories, and I was sad to leave her world behind when I finished the book. The author notes that she named her storytelling camel after the most famous storyteller of all time, Scheherazade, and Once Upon a Camel enchants as well as any Arabian Nights tale. I highly recommend it for readers aged 8 and up.

The author provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Good Night, Good Night by Sandra Boynton

Good Night, Good Night cover image

Beloved children’s author Sandra Boynton is a master at capturing the mundane details about life and showing them as something to celebrate and be enthusiastic about. Good Night, Good Night, a companion to The Going to Bed Book, is sure to be another hit with children and their parents.

Bright but soothing colors provide the background for a group of animals on a boat getting ready for bed. The story opens with, “The sun has set not long ago. Now everybody goes below.” Animals rush from the deck to bathe in the tub, get their pajamas on, brush their teeth, do some stretching exercises, climb into bed, sing a lullaby and turn off the light. Waves rock everyone to sleep.

Good Night, Good Night is a great bedtime book, and it can even be used to set a bedtime routine that can help little ones transition from their active days to sleepy nights.

The author provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Threads of Peace by Uma Krishnaswami

Mohandas Gandhi believed peaceful resistance could provoke powerful changes. After experiencing and witnessing injustices, he sought to end British rule of India and return power to its people. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. also peacefully protested laws that kept Black people in the south from voting or exercising other rights. He rallied thousands to protest with him and inspired them with his speeches.

While these two men lived at different times in history on different continents, each chose to confront oppression not through violence, but through steadfast resolution to challenge unjust laws. Threads of Peace: How Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Changed the World by Uma Krishnaswami tells the stories of their lives, their remarkable accomplishments, and their lasting legacies.

Krishnaswami is a great storyteller who reveals how their upbringing and experiences influenced how these men saw the world and chose to act. She reveals their flaws as well as their better characteristics, how they succeeded and how they failed. Interestingly, she also includes information about the lives of the men who assassinated them.

There’s a timeline of historical events that’s helpful at the back of the book, and other extensive resources including a glossary, bibliography, source list, and an index. Also, the book itself is beautiful, with many historic photos and other material that help to bring the men and the times they lived in to life.

I highly recommend Threads of Peace for readers aged 9 and up.

Interview With Barbara Newman, Author of The Dreamcatcher Codes

Today I’m featuring an interview with Barbara Newman, author of The Dreamcatcher Codes, which I previously reviewed. Here she talks about her writing and why she thinks young people should have hope for the future and feel empowered.

Barbara Newman

How did you get started writing books for young readers?

BN: As a mother, reading with my children was a special time of connection. It brought us on grand adventures and became a jumping off point for important conversations. Story and character, time, and place—all of it presented opportunities and teachable moments between me and my children. As mine grew, (they’ve flown the nest) I found that I loved some of the young adult literature as much as they did. It enhanced my own imagination. Having imagination is the essence of creativity. I didn’t set out to write for young readers—but this story, The Dreamcatcher Codes, just came out of me. It wasn’t planned. It just happened.

What do you think are some of the challenges writing for that group?

BN: Children and tweens are highly intelligent- sometimes much more than we give them credit for. I learned early on during the writing process that in order to connect with them, it meant respecting them, meeting them where they were, not where I thought they might me.

What do you like most about it?

BN: Two things come to mind when writing for young people. It brings me back to a time in my own life when I felt that anything was possible. For me, seeing through a young person’s eyes is a gift. I also like writing for this group because I know the power of story. A book can change the way a young person sees themselves and their place in the world.

Why did you want to write The Dreamcatcher Codes for a young audience?

BN: I deeply care about the environment and wanted to bring a message of hope to our young generation. I’m also an advocate for girls’ leadership.

I want my readers to see the natural world through new and wondrous eyes, which will inspire them to protect our precious planet. At the very end of the book, I list resources for my readers—there are wonderful national organizations that encourage and empower our youth to be an ally for the earth in fun and creative ways. 

The book features an important message about the environment, but is there something else you are hoping to get across to your audience?

BN: The Dreamcatcher Codes builds cultural bridges, unity and hope while illuminating two critical issues of our times: climate change and girls finding their voices and vital place in the world. Girl power is a big theme. (Sometimes I call it “cowgirl spirit.”) Diversity, belonging, and identity are also important messages. So is sisterhood, empathy, cooperation, and resilience—it’s all wrapped up in a little bit of magic, myth and mystery.

Book Review: The Dreamcatcher Codes by Barbara Newman

The Dreamcatcher Codes cover image

For a long time Sophia has been the guardian of a magical horseshoe which hold the key to keeping the natural world healthy. But when the horseshoe shatters and raven steals a piece, she must gather four young adventurers to retrieve the missing piece and restore order. Dubbed the Crystal Warriors, each girl brings strength associated with the four directions and the elements of fire, air, water, and earth. Together they must work fast to preserve the land they love.

The Dreamcatcher Codes by Barbara Newman is an adventurous tale that encourages young readers to tune into the wisdom of cultures and civilizations that have long felt a connection to working in harmony with nature. The girls feel the need to act quickly, as the world and the plants and animals that live on it suffer from pollution and other ills. Dark forces gather against them, but as their confidence grows, so does their determination to do what needs to be done.

The Dreamcatcher Codes uses fantasy elements to emphasize the dangers facing the natural world, and it can serve as a call to action for young environmentalists. I recommend it for readers aged 9 to 12.

The author provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

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