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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.

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 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.

The Sign of the Cat by Lynne Jonell

Cat lovers (and tiger lovers) everywhere who also enjoy fabulous fantasy adventure stories should pick this one up right away. Duncan McKay has a special, secret ability: he can speak cat. Of course, cats understand human language anyway, but rare is the human who can speak to and understand cats in their own language. Duncan is going to need all the advantages he can get when he’s kidnapped, almost drowned–twice!–attacked by a tiger, locked in a cage, and stranded on a deserted island, not necessarily in that order. Will Duncan be able to save not only himself but also all the kittens and cats of Arvidia from a kitten-squishing villain?

What a great story! Duncan is a likable protagonist, almost twelve years old, and beginning to chafe under his mother’s restrictions on his behavior. So, it’s a coming of age novel with Duncan figuring out what it means to be honest, brave, and noble. The cats are personable with distinct and engaging personalities of their own. Some people complained on Goodreads and Amazon that the story was a bit predictable and that the big reveals were obvious and easily figured out, but I must be a little slow. I didn’t really know what was going to happen, although I had my theories, some of them right and some wrong. I think middle grade readers, even those who are not particularly cat lovers, will really enjoy this adventure story, unless they are too jaded, or too smart for their own good, or maybe too old. Just call me 58, dumb, and happily unobservant when it comes to discerning plot twists when I’m enjoying the ride.

This volume is probably the first in a projected series, but it’s perfectly satisfying as a stand alone novel. That’s what I like, and I like this one well enough to see if Ms. Jonell can do it again in the second book in the series. I would enjoy some more adventures with Duncan and the other characters in The Sign of the Cat. I’ve decided I like cats–in books.

Saturday Review of Books: January 16, 2016

“The worst thing about new books is that they keep us from reading the old ones.” ~Joseph Joubert

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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.

Hola! Let’s Learn Spanish by Judy Martialay

I received this book for review from the author back in early December, but I’m just now getting around to looking at it. Ms. Martialay, a retired foreign language teacher, created her book and the accompanying online materials for children ages six to ten who don’t have access to foreign language classes in their elementary schools. The book uses the “English story with interspersed Spanish words and phrases” method of introducing children to the Spanish language. (There’s probably a formal name for this technique, but I don’t know it.) The story is a little bit silly, all about a jumping bean named Panchito and his adventures in the bean field, at the market and in the home of some children, but young children should enjoy listening and picking up a few Spanish words as they listen. There’s also information on Spanish culture, focused on Mexico, a craft suggestion for making masks, and a skit and a song.

The best part is the listening online, not the book which is $19.99 for a thirty page book(let) with some cute illustrations and the words and story and extras in print. Parents and teachers will appreciate the book. However, children/students, the target audience, will enjoy listening to the audio version of the book, available for free at the website polyglotkidz.com, with or without the book. Adults who don’t know any Spanish at all can still use this curriculum with their students by just playing the audio version, following along in the book, and watching the kids learn a little Spanish in a fun and pretty much effortless manner.

You do need to know that this book and audio do not make up a full elementary Spanish curriculum, just an introduction or a taste. If your children want to really learn Spanish, you’ll have to follow up with something more intensive: lessons with a native Spanish speaker or Spanish for Kids or MUZZY Spanish. Hola! Let’s Learn Spanish will serve to get the kids interested and give them a bit of vocabulary, but it will only take a week or two to exhaust everything that’s in the book and be ready to move on.

By the way, I wish I knew how to type Spanish punctuation, including the upside-down exclamation mark (!) that’s supposed to come before the word Hola! in the title of this book. Unfortunately, I don’t, and it annoys me to have it wrong. But it’s right on the cover of the book, and that’s the important thing.

Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon

The first book I read in 2015 was Jan Karon’s Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good, in which Dooley and Lace finally become engaged to be married. My first book of 2016 was Come Rain or Come Shine, the story of Dooley’s and Lace’s wedding. And to top that bit of serendipity off, we celebrated our own family wedding on January 2, 2016 when my beautiful Dancer Daughter married her loving groom, The Beast (nickname given in all respect as appropriate nomenclature).

If you don’t know who Dooley and Lace are, you should hie yourself immediately to a library or bookstore and pick up the first of Jan Karon’s Mitford books, At Home in Mitford. You have a feast ahead of you. Come back when you’ve finished book #12, and I’ll whet your appetite, if it needs any whetting, for a book about a not-so-fairy-tale, but still very happy, wedding.

Come Rain or Come Shine is the 13th book in the series, and it’s a very satisfying read, especially for a mom who is still recovering from marrying off her first child to be married. (Only seven more to go.) There are lots of secrets and glitches and interruptions and surprises, including a very unexpected guest who crashes the wedding, but they do get married. Dooley and Lace become Mr. and Mrs. Kavanaugh.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“He and Lace and everybody else had done all in their power to keep it simple. They made their own invitations, saved a ton by not having a caterer or a tuxedo rental or an over-the-top bride’s dress to drag around in the chicken manure. What happened to their laid-back country wedding where people could chill out, relax, no problem? Okay, so maybe there was no such thing as a laid-back wedding, no matter how hard you tried.”

Our family motto, decided today:
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:12.

“He had prayed in cathedrals and at the bedsides of two or three bishops, but never with more to give thanks for than this day, in this generous place where they were celebrating a marriage, a child, a new home, family ties, a new business, the completion of academic studies, and of course, all those further, though often unseen, blessings bestowed by Almighty God made known through Jesus Christ. . . ‘Almighty God.” He cleared his throat, concerned that he may choke up. Then again, how could he not?”

“Love, cherish, honor, keep. A handful! Honey Herschel hoped these kids had thought it over carefully, but even if they had, they would still not have a clue. You never had a clue about anything till it happened and you learned the truth about yourself.”

“We might say that a good marriage is a contest of generosities. How wonderful that it’s possible to ensure our own happiness by seeking the happiness of another. Is it our job to make the beloved happy? It is not. The other person always has a choice. It is our job to generously outdo, no matter what, and discover that the prize in this contest of generosity is more love.”

I’m gonna love you, like nobody’s loved you
Come rain or come shine
High as a mountain, deep as a river
Come rain or come shine
I guess when you met me
It was just one of those things
But don’t you ever bet me
‘Cause I’m gonna be true if you let me
You’re gonna love me, like nobody’s loved me
Come rain or come shine
We’ll be happy together, unhappy together
Now won’t that be just fine
The days may be cloudy or sunny
We’re in or out of the money
But I’m with you always
I’m with you rain or shine.