Childish Nonsense

Exploring Children's Literature

Sword and Verse

Written by Kathy MacMillan

I hate it when I can’t put books down. I don’t get anything else done. But that what the case with this book.

 First of all, personal disclosure: I know the author very well. For a while, I avoided this novel because doing a review for it felt a little odd. But I’m so glad I finally did read it. I’m putting the review on my personal blog because (1) because the review seems a little personal and (2) I don’t really have anywhere else to review a young adult story, which is this definitely is.

Written in first person, the story follows Raisa, an Arnath slave in Qilara. Born the daughter of a Learned One, she is captured as a child and forced into servitude. She would have been killed along with her parents had the raiders known who her parents were, but she is protected by her anonymity. She spends her days with other children, trying not to fall and die while they painstakingly clean the walls, ceilings, and statues in the palace. Arnathim, other than Tutors, are prohibited from reading and writing. Even ordinary Qilarites are not allowed to know the writings of the royal class, but the Tutors must learn all symbols in order to pass them along to royal heirs. When a Tutor commits treason, Raisa is selected to replace her. Her fellow student is Mati, the current heir to the throne.  They fall in love. Meanwhile, Mati is betrothed to a girl whose family would shore up the kingdom treasury, and Raisa tries to help the slave children. Palace intrigue and a slave revolt add to the fast pace and exciting story.

One of the compelling features of this story is the difference between Qilarite and Arnathim writing. That difference is based on conceptual versus sound-based writing, for which the author obviously draws on her training in American Sign Language. The author also creates a mythology, followed chapter by chapter as the main story unfolds.  Fascinating and effective technique. MacMillan skillfully weaves numerous symbols into the story, including the asoti birds that give their quills for writing and live in cages without bars. The bars are intangibles that hold them back. Raisa protects a written link to her past, which she decides is insignificant, but is in fact the key to her understanding of her situation and freeing the Arnathim.

The characters are not all well-developed, but Raisa certainly is.

I think we’ll be looking for more novels from MacMillan.

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sword-and-verseTitle: Sword and Verse

Author: Kathy MacMillan

Published: Harper Teen/HarperCollins Publishers, 2016

Reviewer: Sue Poduska

Format: Hardcover, 384 pages

Grade Level: 14 up

Genre: Fantasy, Fiction

ISBN: 978-0-06-232461-0

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A Really Good Book – The Great American Whatever

I really don’t have enough time to read a lot of young adult or general books. I read so much for my review blogs that there aren’t enough hours in the day. That, and the fact that I seem to require an awful lot of sleep, particularly in the evenings. I even joined a book club expressly so I would be forced to read something other than picture books and middle grade novels.

But I made an exception for Tim Federle’s The Great American Whatever. And it was a good decision.

Quinn, or Win, is coming up on his seventeenth birthday. He lost his sister, Annabeth, nearly six months before and is just beginning to come to terms with the loss. It was his great hope that he and Annabeth would make great movies together under Q&A Productions. Now, he’ll have to find his path without her. In addition, he feels guilty over her death, find he may not have known her as well as he thought, and is just beginning to emerge as the gay man he’ll become. An awful lot to deal with. His friends, siblings Geoff and Carly, are working to get him back into the world. Carly sets him up with another friend.

The coming-of-age and grief issues Quinn faces are universal, making all the characters relatable and likeable, whether or not you relate to being gay or even to losing a sibling. One blurb compared Quinn to Holden Caulfield, but Quinn is much more of the world than Holden and much more open about his real emotions. He loves his mother and defers to her whenever possible. He has mixed feelings about his absent father, which also makes the character ring true. He misses his sister and realizes he needs Geoff. He has hopes and dreams, though he wonders if they’ve changed with Annabeth gone. His quick wit is delightful. And he doesn’t seem to worry about phonies.

So, if you don’t have time to read this book, make time.

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Great American Whatever

  • Title: The Great American Whatever
  • Author: Tim Federle
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 288 pages
  • Genre: Young adult fiction, coming of age, grief
  • ISBN: 978-1481404099





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The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

Boys in the BoatI don’t often review adult books. Partly because my other blogs,, are geared toward first through sixth grades. But I just finished a book that I was reading for the neighborhood book club, and it deserves to be highlighted. It also deserves to be in a lot of school libraries. Boys and girls can both learn a lot.

Listed as an ALA Notable Book for Adults, this would be a wonderful addition to any history class, as it makes history come alive. Jesse Owens wasn’t the only American who shattered the dreams of Hitler and Goebbels. The Germans wanted to show the superiority of the Aryan “race” and stick it to those who punished them for World War I. Nine University of Washington men, learning to pull for each other, showed the world what teamwork can do.

The main focus is Joe Rantz, a Washington native who led an extremely difficult life. He was abandoned – literally – by his family several times. As a result, he had to learn to trust his teammates to work toward their common goal. The reader also learns a lot about Al Ulbrickson, head crew coach, and George Pocock, the shell builder who contributed much more than shells.

In a way, the many races leading up to the Olympics are more exciting than the actual event. Because it’s obvious what the result will be. It’s more about the process and about the closeness of the gold medal race (and why it’s close) anyway. But exciting it is.

The level of research going into this book is incredible. Meticulous detail went into each and every page. I can probably build a reasonable racing shell now. The author readily admits that he improvised dialogue, but much of it comes from the people who were there. He interviewed many participants and read every diary and letter he could get his hands on. And he is careful to set the story in the history of the day, noting the effect of the Great Depression on the nation and of the Nazis on Germany and the Olympics.

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  • Title: The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
  • Author: Daniel James Brown
  • Published: Penguin Books, June 2013
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 417 pages
  • Genre: Narrative nonfiction, Biography, History
  • ISBN: 978-0143125471
  • Extras: Authors’ Note, Notes, Index
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