Archive by Author | Sherry

Two for Typhoid Mary

Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary by Gail Jarrow.

Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America by Susan Campbell Bartoletti.

Gail Jarrow’s book on Typhoid Mary was well-written and informative, but I didn’t care for the tabloid style of the page layout, typography, and artwork. Tastes may vary, and kids may lap it up or at least be drawn to the yellow chapter titles on black background pages and the all-caps section headings.

I learned a lot from the book. For example, did you know that typhoid fever and typhus are two very different diseases with differing symptoms and disease-spread mechanisms? I think I used to know that, but I had forgotten. And I didn’t know that Mary Mallon, aka “Typhoid Mary” spent the rest of her life (mostly), after she was traced and found, on North Brother Island, living alone and convinced that she was not a carrier of typhoid germs and had never harmed anyone. I also didn’t know that only a very few people who have typhoid fever become lifelong carriers. Apparently the germs remain inside these particularly susceptible people (perhaps multiplying on gallstones in the gallbladder) for years and years and are excreted in their feces and sometimes urine to infect others. Most people are no longer carriers a few weeks or perhaps months after their encounter with typhoid fever germs.

The other book Terrible Typhoid Mary by Susan Campbell Bartoletti had the better layout and narrative flow. However, I learned more from Jarrow’s book. And there’s a feminist slant to Bartoletti’s book that does a disservice to accurate historical analysis. The book indicates that Mary Mallon (Typhoid Mary) is good and justified in her belief that she is not a carrier, even though she was wrong and infected others. It’s implied that the male public health officer who forced Mary Mallon into quarantine was a bad guy, prejudiced and arrogant. (Maybe he was something of an intellectual snob.) However, the female Dr. Josephine Baker, also instrumental in finding and confining Ms. Mallon, was a heroine in Ms. Bartlett’s book.

Either of these titles, or one of the other multitude of books about Typhoid Mary and the spread of typhoid fever and the civil rights questions involved in the confinement of Mary Mallon, would lead to some good discussion and historical study among middle school and high school students. Also, comparison and contrast to the current handling of the AIDS epidemic and the Ebola virus would be appropriate and and ripe for analysis and even debate.

Saturday Review of Books: February 6, 2016

“Forever reading has been essential, the necessary fix, the support system. Her life has been informed by reading. She has read not just for distraction, sustenance, to pass the time, but she has read in a state of primal innocence, reading for enlightenment, for instruction, even. She has read to find out how sex works, how babies are born, she has read to discover what it is to be good, or bad; she has read to find out if things are the same for others as they are for her—then, discovering that frequently they are not, she has to read to find out what it is that other people are experiencing that she is missing.” ~Penelope Lively, How It All Began

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Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

An Ambush of Tigers by Betsy R. Rosenthal

An Ambush of Tigers: A Wild Gathering of Collective Nouns by Betsy R. Rosenthal.

Collective nouns are such attractive words for poets. Who can resist such evocative phrases as “a murder of crows” or “a pace of asses” or “a sleuth of bears”? It makes sense that there are several authors who have used these collective nouns to form the text for a picture book featuring groups of animals:

A Gaggle of Geese by Eve Merriam, illustrated by Paul Galdone. Ms. Merriam starts out her book with a snippet of poetry and ends with the same, but the main part of the book is made up of a list of fun-sounding collective nouns with pictures by one of my favorite illustrators, Paul Galdone.

A Cache of Jewels and Other Collective Nouns by Ruth Heller. Ms. Heller continues to rhyme throughout her entire book about collective nouns, and she also gives us several examples of these collective nouns that refer to other things, not just animals: “a fleet of ships” or a “lock of hair”. She also informs readers in a note at the end of the book that “one collective noun can describe many groups” and “one group can be described by more than one collective noun.”

I like both of these books (and there are others) and have read them with children several times. However, this new book, An Ambush of Tigers, takes these special nouns to new level by incorporating them into a rhyming poem that speculates on the meaning of the collective noun as it relates to the actions of the animals it refers to:

Who cleans up
when a clutter of cats
gets fooled by the pranks
of a mischief of rats?

When a murder of crows
leaves barely a trace
is a sleuth of bears
hot on the case?

How imaginative! The illustrations by Jago, a British illustrator, are beautiful, lots of detail, but big enough and vivid enough for even small children or groups to enjoy. (Jago is the illustrator who did the wonderful and award-winning pictures for The Children’s Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones.) I especially like the murder of crows flying against the full moon in the background with the sleuth of bears on the ground, using noses and magnifying glasses to search for clues. Not terribly smart bears, they need to look up.

So, this book is my new favorite collective noun book, and I’m adding it to my huge wishlist at Amazon. Enjoy it with your favorite child, or with a chaos of children.

The Tune Is in the Tree by Maud Hart Lovelace

In the several boxes of discarded books from a local private school library that a friend rescued on their way to the dumpster, I discovered some real gems—in more ways than one. The Tune Is in the Tree is one of Maud Hart Lovelace’s other novels, not about Betsy Ray and her friends Tacy and Tib. However, in the book Betsy’s Wedding, Betsy says, “I think I’ll write a story about a little girl going to live with the birds.” It’s not too much of a stretch to think that perhaps The Tune Is in the Tree is Betsy’s story, fleshed out by Ms. Lovelace herself, especially since Ms. Lovelace wrote that The Tune Is in the Tree is “just the sort of a story Betsy used to tell to Tacy.”

In this 177-page fantasy, Annie Jo, who lives with her parents Jo and Annie, gets left alone by mistake, and Mr. and Mrs. Robin feel compelled to take her into their nest until her mother and father return home. For that plan to work, Annie Jo must become a lot smaller, and she needs a pair of wings, both of which are provided for by courtesy of Miss Ruby Hummingbird, who happens to be have a little Magic. After Annie Jo shrinks and gets her wings, she learns all about the birds of the meadow and forest, including the Thrush family, Mr. and Mrs Catbird, the Misses Oriole, and the Perfidious Mrs. Cowbird who causes trouble all over by laying her eggs in other birds’ nests.

This jewel is such a lovely and funny story, and the illustrations by Eloise Wilkin are a perfect match to the story. The book was first published in 1950, in the middle of the time period during which Ms. Lovelace was busily writing and having published the Betsy-Tacy books. I like to think of Ms. Lovelace taking a break from the adventures of Betsy and her friends to write this homage to the world of birds. The child who is interested in bird-lore could learn a lot from reading or listening to The Tune Is in the Tree. The birds in the story are fantasy birds who talk and practice their concerts and even bake cookies (the Ovenbird family). However, the birds actually do embody some of the characteristics of real birds. Thrushes do make beautiful music. Ovenbirds do have nests shape like little ovens, hence the name. And the Perfidious Cowbird really does lay its eggs in the nests of other birds.

Then, there’s the poetry, both the poetry of Ms. Lovelace’s luscious prose and the poetry she makes reference to in the course of the story. Emily Dickinson, Robert Lowell, and John Keats are all invoked as the birds keep their libraries in the Brook which “reads aloud all day.”

“And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.”
~As You Like It by William Shakespeare

Unfortunately, The Tune Is in the Tree is a book not to be found in either trees or brooks. I looked it up on Amazon, and used copies are priced at anywhere between $200 and $800. I don’t plan to sell my newly discovered treasure, but patrons of my library can borrow it and enjoy a wonderful tale.

The Nargun and the Stars by Patricia Wrightson

This Australian classic won the Children’s Book Council of Australia Award for Book of the Year in 1974, and its author, Patricia Wrightson, is the only Australian author to have been awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Award for lasting contributions to children’s literature. I found a copy of The Nargun and the Stars in the multitude of books that were donated to my library from a local private school’s discard pile, and I read it to see if it would be a good addition to my own library.

It’s a dark and perhaps humanistic, or even pagan, book, but I would say that it’s pagan in the sense of drawing on pre-Christian era mythology, in this case the mythology of the Australian aboriginal peoples. Just as C.S. Lewis drew on both Greek and Norse mythology for his depiction of Narnia and as Tolkien drew from Norse, Saxon, and Celtic myths to create the creatures and world of Middle Earth, Ms. Wrightson used the Australian aboriginal myths and legends to tell a story that speaks into our own time.

The novel begins and ends with the Nargun, a stone and earth creature, full of hunger and anger and “slow, monstrous coldness”. Over centuries, or millennia, the Nargun slowly moved across the Australian landscape and settles into Wongadilla, a place in the mountains of southern Australia.

The actual story takes place in the 1970’s, when the book was written and published. Simon, an orphan, comes to live with his second cousins, brother and sister Charlie and Edie, on a sheep run in Wongadilla. Simon begins to explore the strange place where he has landed, so to speak, and he finds and gets to know odd and mythical creatures in the swamps and forests and caves of Wongadilla. However, it is the Nargun that is a threat to the sheep ranch, to the humans who live there, and even to the Potkoorak of the swamp and the Turongs of the forest. Charlie and Edie and Simon become a family and a team as they work together to understand and to defeat the impersonal but powerful malevolence of the Nargun.

I can see why this book won the acclaim that it did. The writing is quite beautiful and evocative, and I am sure that the atmosphere of this book will become a part of my mental concept of Australia and all things Australian. The Nargun and the Stars won’t be a book for everyone. It might give some children (or adults) nightmares, and some parents could object to the idea that the evil Nargun is only confined by the end of the book and only by means of completely human ingenuity, but not finally defeated or destroyed. However, that ending reminds me of the book of Revelation (which I doubt was the author’s intent) when Satan himself is chained for 1000 years (Revelation 20). Perhaps the Nargun, from Australian aboriginal mythology, is really a demon, or at least that’s way I thought of it as I read.

According to Gunai/Kurnai tribal legends, the Nargun is a fierce half-human half-stone creature that lived in the Den of Nargun, a cave under a rock overhang behind a small waterfall in the Mitchell River National Park, Victoria, Australia. Aboriginal legend describes the Nargun as a beast that was all stone except for its hands, arms and breast. The fierce creature would drag unwary travellers into its den, and any weapon directed against it would be turned back on its owner.

As Shakespeare so aptly said via Hamlet, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Stories like The Nargun and the Stars serve to remind us in our materialistic and naturalistic philosophical world that we don’t have it all figured out and that there are all sorts of “dragons” and enemies that have yet to be finally defeated and destroyed.

This novel also reminded me of G.K. Chesterton and his observation to the effect that “fairy tales do not tell children the dragons (Nargun) exist. Children already know that dragons (Nargun) exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons (Nargun) can be killed (or at least chained).”

One more impression: there is a definite affinity between The Nargun and the Stars and N.D. Wilson’s The Boys of Blur. If you liked Wilson’s take-off on Beowulf, I’d recommend Ms. Wrightson’s fantasy/horror story of Australian monsters and heroes.

Saturday Review of Books: January 30, 2016

“Books constitute capital. A library book lasts as long as a house, for hundreds of years. It is not, then, an article of mere consumption but fairly of capital, and often in the case of professional men, setting out in life, it is their only capital.” ~Thomas Jefferson

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Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

The Dungeoneers by John David Anderson

Author John David Anderson (Side-kicked, Minion) seems to be interested in moral ambiguity for middle grade readers. In this kinda sorta medieval/fairy tale setting, our protagonist, Colm Candorly, shows talent as a pickpocket and is invited to go to a school for “dungeoneers”, adventurers who steal treasure from goblins and orcs and other nasty creatures. The teachers and the lessons are mostly all about greed for treasure and revenge for past wrongs, but maybe Colm learns a lesson about greed and revenge by the end of the book?

It’s obvious that Mr. Anderson did some Dungeons and Dragons-style dungeoneering in his (possibly misspent) youth. There’s also a touch of HP in the story as Colm makes friends at his new school and learns that not all of the students, teachers, and mentors at the school are trustworthy or even kind. Colm’s new treasure seeking team consists of himself, an erstwhile Rogue, Lena the Barbarian, who faints at the sight of her own blood, Quinn the Mage who casts stuttering, dangerous, and unpredictable spells, and Serene the Druid, a pacifist who is scared of big animals but communicates well with spiders. Together, the four of them are out to win at in-school contests, protect one another from their bullying compatriots, and get as much treasure as possible with the management taking fifty percent or more.

Side-kicked and Minion were about superheroes and the moral choices involved in becoming a hero or a villain. The Dungeoneers goes back to a more classic fantasy setting, but the theme is still same. Is a rogue, who steals from goblins and orcs, a hero or a thief? What’s the difference? Is there any honor among thieves? Will Colm choose to become a rich rogue or a honest but penniless cobbler like his father? If you have a talent for thievery and pickpocketing, what is it good for? Is Colm one of the good guys, one of the bad guys, or something in-between?

The Fog Diver by Joel Ross

A post-apocalyptic (Hunger Games) sort of adventure story pitched for younger readers, maybe 9 to 12 years old. The nanites that were supposed to combat the air pollution of a long-ago civilization have instead taken over the entire surface of the earth, creating a deadly fog that brings sickness to anyone who spends time in it. The ruthless Lord Kodoc is out to get Chess, the fog diver or tether boy for a group of scavengers from the slums who use their air raft to search for salvage in the fog. Unfortunately for Chess, he’s a freak, born in a cage, down in the fog, with one fog-filled eye to betray his origins. As Chess and his scavenger buddies–Hazel, Bea and Swedish—try to escape the notice of Lord Kodoc, they also need to earn enough money to leave the slums and go to Port Oro where their mentor, Mrs. E, might be able to find a cure for her life-threatening fog-sickness.

The book moves along at a steady clip with lots of peril and near-death experiences. It also has lots of Star Wars references, which are fun to catch, and the plot itself is very Star Wars-y. There are humorous references to various pop culture artifacts and ephemera as Chess consults his father’s old scrapbook for an understanding of history but misunderstands many of the references. So the children think that Burger King and Dairy Queen were real monarchs from long ago, and they tell each other stories about Skywalker Trek and the X-wing Enterprise.

I though the ending was adequate, not really a cliff-hanger, although it’s obvious that a sequel is in the works. Fog Diver is one of the books on the shortlist for Cybils in the Middle Grade Fiction category. That’s why I read it, and I’m glad I did. I’m definitely looking forward to that sequel, The Lost Compass (May, 2016).

“My name is Chess, and I was born inside a cage.

Imagine a wooden platform jutting from a mountain cliff. Now picture a chain falling from that platform and vanishing into the Fog, a deadly white mist that covers the entire Earth.

That’s where I was born: locked in a cage, at the end of a chain, inside the fog.

And I would have died there, too, if Mrs. E hadn’t saved me.”

Doctor’s Boy by Karin Anckarsvard


This Swedish import, published in the 1960’s, was a delight. The plot is a bit slow-moving for the internet generation, but if you can slow down long enough to enjoy the scenery of early twentieth century Sweden, the moral dilemmas of a boy who is learning about poverty and class distinctions for the first time, and a thoughtful, maturing kind of story, then Doctor’s Boy will be a good change of pace.

There is action: attempted robbery, health crises, of both human and dog variety, troubles at school, and the excitement of accompanying Father (the doctor) on his house calls every evening. However, the characterization of the doctor’s son, Jon, and his new friend, Rickard, a poor boy from the slums of this “little Swedish town of Soltuna”, is the centerpiece of this story. Jon learns to appreciate Rickard’s strengths and challenges, and Rickard learns to respect the doctor’s boy, who has grown up a lot while helping his father in his work.

In fact, a twenty-first boy or girl who reads Doctor’s Boy might be a bit jealous of the freedom and the interesting experiences that Jon and Rickard have. Ten year old Jon is allowed to walk to and from school by himself. He doesn’t like to tell his parents much about what happens at school, so he doesn’t. He goes with his father in the gig to his evening house calls and manages the horse while his father goes into homes with possible contagion or goes in with him to help when the cases are not dangerous. Later in the story, Jon and Rickard go out to an island where a man is deathly ill, along with father, but they get to stay and take care of the man while the father returns to get help.

Even though Jon attends a private school, along with Rickard who is there on scholarship, the story has a homeschooling feel to it as Jon is mentored by his father and initiated into the “family business” of doctoring. It would be a great read aloud for discussing Swedish life and culture or fathers and sons working together or the way to relate to people in poverty. If you can find a copy, you should definitely take a look. I first saw it recommended in Elizabeth Wilson’s Books Children Love, where she writes that “the story is full of lively events and portrays a warm, loving family with a consistent concern for the needs of others.”

Saturday Review of Books: January 23, 2016

“I realize, of course, that I wasn’t born knowing how to read. I just can’t imagine a time when I didn’t know how.” ~Katherine Paterson

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Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.