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 https://torieldridge.com.

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.

Interview With Chris Negron, Author of The Last Super Chef

Photo by Bobbi Jo Brooks

Author Chris Negron’s latest book for young readers, The Last Super Chef, follows his successful debut novel, Dan Unmasked. Here he answers a few questions for readers at Mother Daughter Book Club as well as shares a recipe from his home kitchen. For more information, visit www.chrisnegron.com.

How did you get started writing books for young readers?

CN: Initially I wasn’t! I wrote mostly books for adults for several years. But then a critique partner and I started writing flash fiction together as an exercise, and when I sent her a piece featuring a group of baseball players hanging out in the outfield that was very friendship-focused, she told me I had a strong voice for that age group and type of story. That eventually led me to write Dan Unmasked, which became my debut middle grade novel and was also very baseball- and friendship-forward. The Last Super Chef is my second middle grade project with HarperCollins.

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

CN: I recently started teaching a class to young writers, and one of the frequent pieces of advice I was given was to just be myself and be honest and authentic with them, because kids detect a phony in their midst really quickly. I think the same applies to writing stories intended for young readers. It’s important to just be authentic and honest, to source what you’re writing about from your own experiences as much as possible. So far with my middle grade books, I’ve written about the things I love, like comic books and baseball and competitive cooking shows, and because of that, it’s been easy to be authentic in that way. The themes of my books are just things that I think a lot about, or maybe things that bother me or have bothered me in the past. I’m not trying to “teach” anyone anything, I’m simply interested in starting a conversation with readers along the lines of “Does this bother you, too?” or “Do you think about this, too?” I think it’s really important to ask questions with our stories, and not to try to give kids answers. Stories for young readers should simply provide them with a canvas to paint out those answers on their own.

What do you like most about it?

CN: I love doing virtual events with schools where the kids can ask whatever they want about being an author or the books. The questions are always unique, and never fail to surprise, and sometimes later I even get thank you letters from the class which always touch my heart.

In The Last Super Chef, Curtis loves to cook. How do kids benefit when they become savvy in the kitchen?

CN: I think it can be empowering for them. I know that’s part of it for Curtis. Because his mother is a single mom raising both Curtis and his younger sister Paige on her own, Curtis is often forced to cook for this sister, and it’s great that his mom can depend on him to not only do that but to do it competently. Expertly, actually, in Curtis’s case.

My two sisters and I were latchkey kids when we were young, and we had a bunch of “go-to” dinners we could make – or at least start – on our own. I still remember cooking the ground beef for the El Paso taco kit in my mother’s electric fry pan, then draining off the grease into a coffee cup (mom’s instruction), using a precarious method of tilting the entire pan in the air. Looking back now, it makes me marvel at how independent we were but also makes me realize…well, that it was a little bit dangerous, I guess? Ah, the eighties, when all the playgrounds were metal death traps and kids were cooking on their own with hot grease. I’m realizing now I probably brought a little bit of that danger aspect to Curtis’s story, even though it’s set in present day. I mean, there *may* be a blowtorch early on, and an ill-advised bonfire as well.

Do you cook much at home?

I’m really lucky to be married to an incredibly good cook who truly enjoys prepping most of our meals. Now that I think of it, maybe her motivation is keeping my meager skills out of the kitchen! Seriously, though, all through the pandemic, I kept suggesting various take-out options to give her a break, but she always insisted that she preferred to make our meals at home herself, even though it was a ton of non-stop work. So, no, I don’t do much of the cooking at home, and that often leads people to ask how I would develop the idea to write a book with so much cooking in it.

The answer is my great fandom and admiration for competitive cooking shows like Top Chef, Master Chef, Chopped, and so on. What I love about these shows is the creativity of the competitors, how they strive to practice their art at the highest level, how focused they are on producing a dish – essentially, their art – that is unique and authentic. The judges on these shows often talk about wanting to see the chefs cook in their own “voice.” This is inspiring to me, because it’s a lot like writing. As writers, we’re always trying to produce authentic and unique work in our own voices, too. Sometimes watching the creativity at work in these shows gives me ideas in my own art.

Did any real-life cooking competitions for kids inspire you to write The Last Super Chef? If so in what way?

Definitely, most of the shows I listed have “junior” editions as well. I’m a dedicated viewer of all of them, and I think I mixed little pieces of each one into various parts of this book’s plot. The kids having to work with surprise ingredients in a few of the challenges definitely comes from Chopped Junior. The focus on creativity and inventiveness I think for sure was inspired by Top Chef. And I was probably thinking of the look and feel of Master Chef Junior the most when describing the made-up Super Chef studio.

All that said, I feel like the Super Chef show is an invention completely from my own creativity, and it was probably one of the most enjoyable parts of writing the book. I got to invent challenges that I had never seen before, in a format that fit my own imagination of how that kind of show would – or maybe more appropriately, could – work. I loved coming up with the various dishes the kids cooked, along with creating the pressure they were under to excel and maximize their talent in unique and creative ways, just like I see the real life chefs and amateur cooks – kids and adults alike – do on those shows I’m so obsessed with.

As Curtis gets to know his fellow competitors as well as Chef Taylor and his staff, he discovers that things aren’t always the way they seem to be on the surface. How does that influence him?

CN: For sure. In retrospect, I think that’s one of the major things I ended up exploring with this book. One of the early reviews I read said that The Last Super Chef was a “lesson in perspective” and I was so gratified to read that. Maybe not the “lesson” part – as I said earlier, I’m not so much interested in teaching lessons or being didactic with my work – but I am glad that the book seems to ask the right questions, ones that encourage readers to think deeper about the people around them.

For Curtis in particular, he starts out making a lot of assumptions about a great many things, including himself and the town he comes from, and certain members of his family, too. As he’s hoping and yearning to earn his way into the competition, he continues that line of thinking from afar about his competitors. A lot of these thoughts are born from the jealousy he feels as he watches them get announced ahead of him.

I confess I wasn’t thinking along these lines when I was writing it, at least not exactly, but now that I look back, perhaps I was mirroring a lot of what we’ve seen in the news recently into this aspect of the book. Curtis has this perspective based mostly on assumptions at the start, and we see how it evolves as the story progresses. And I guess I think that might be an important discussion with kids because we’re in a culture these days where many of us find it difficult to have meaningful exchanges with others who don’t share our exact and precise opinions and beliefs. We tend to make a lot of assumptions, like Curtis, about people who are different from us, whether it be politically, ideologically, racially, along gender lines, whatever. If seeing how Curtis handles his own assumptions, and the ways he realizes how most of them may have been wrong, can help readers out with their own real-life experiences even a tiny bit, then I think I’d be really grateful for that.

Without giving anything away about the story, is there something you really hope young readers take away from reading The Last Super Chef?

CN: Yeah, definitely. I think another thing this book is about is the future. Readers will see why, I hope, by the end if they give Curtis and The Last Super Chef a chance. Without spoiling it, what I’d just say here is that we all have a certain view of what’s ahead – our own futures, more specifically – but as adults we know things rarely turn out the exact way we think they’re going to. Understanding that’s going to happen, developing an ability to roll with the punches when they inevitably come, being flexible enough with our goals and what we want out of life, is a big part of being happy in life, I think. So I hope readers will take away that sometimes cooking without a recipe is not only the best, but most fun way to make your most memorable meals.

Is there anything else you’d like to say to readers at MotherDaughterBookClub.com?

CN: If readers are interested in a signed copy of The Last Super Chef, they can order online from Foxtale Book Shoppe, my local indie bookstore here in the Atlanta area (Woodstock, GA, to be specific). Just include a comment on who it should be personalized to, and Foxtale will let me know when these orders come in, so I can head over there and sign them before they ship the book out.

I’ll be doing quite a few Super Chef-related events, so visit my “Upcoming Events” page at chrisnegron.com for a listing. Many will be virtual, so anyone can attend, or perhaps there will be a live, in-person one near you!

Thanks so much, Cindy, this was a ton of fun.

…And on the next page I have a recipe for you too!

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