George (Alex Gino)

6 Nov

This book gets so many things right, but I’m finding it difficult to talk about all the things I liked without revealing the plot of the story because I want this story to open itself for you on its own – without me or anyone else peeling away at the layers for you.




1. From the very opening, the narration refers to George as “herself” and “she”, which is just brilliant. Really, the rest of the novel sensitively explores the concept of transgenderism, which is discreetly, confidently, and eloquently stated in the first paragraph.

2. We’ve discussed the concept of names, terms, and labels in class many times, and I stalwartly believe that labels are not always bad. I can’t lecture every day about the importance of using varied language, employing synonyms, and exploring nuances between words, and then spout about the wrongness of labels. In our classroom, the caveat has always been to come from a place of respect. This is something I appreciate in Gino’s storytelling because the story is, on one level, about George being a girl that’s called a boy, but it’s about much more (although, of course, for George, this is something she thinks about a lot); it’s about finding security in one’s own skin. We can’t help how others might label us, but we can absolutely choose how much power we want to give them. We don’t have to accept the labels others place on us.

3. Kelly is a wonderful person, a reliable friend, and a realistic fourth grader. She doesn’t blindly accept what George tells her, which would have been too simplistic and too convenient, but she does explain to her best friend why she reacts the way she does. If we were to read about George’s life 5 or even 10 years after this story ends, I know Kelly will still be there. Through her character, Gino reinforces my belief that one person can make a difference in the life of someone else. I hope that you all have or find your own Kellys.

4. George’s brother, Scott, reminds me of Seyton in Macbeth, who has just a handful of lines, but is the one who announces the significant news of Lady Macbeth’s death. Scott honestly highlights an important notion about how we sometimes think of transgender people when he tells George, “That’s more than being just gay.” He’s not saying it to be mean or insensitive or even ignorant. This is Scott’s way of trying to sort through his own thoughts and feelings about a reality that – if you count back to the time of australopithecus – is only now in its infancy in terms of being acknowledged and discussed. For many children and adults alike, transgenderism is hard to understand. This is why children and adults alike should read this book. Gino doesn’t shy away from this notion or skate over it as if it’s inconsequential; rather, George serves as the beginning of an important conversation.

5. George is a story that tackles a very sensitive, controversial, inherently personal but undeniably public issue. But this is exactly what we need, and Gino writes the story for exactly the right audience. There are many sources of information and assistance available to young adults in high school and beyond, but I think the conversation should begin much younger … at the moment when people start to wonder about things. If we wait until we’ve already decided to squash this important bit of ourselves out of fear or embarrassment, if we wait until we’ve already built up resentment towards people for not understanding our situation because we never let them in, if we wait until we have alienated ourselves from those who love us and who would’ve welcomed us with open arms had we given them a chance, we’ve deprived ourselves of years of happiness. Why should we deny that very essential part of ourselves, which doesn’t even hurt anyone, the chance to be happy? Or even just to exist?

6. There’s a very simple but moving line in the book where Scott looks at his brother “as if his sibling made sense to him for the first time”. This, to me, is the very essence of agape. If Charlotte had witnessed it, she would’ve smiled, too.

7. I read this book during the summer, but I haven’t had the chance to post my review of it until now. But I’m glad of the way the timing happened. A couple of days ago, Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, was sworn into office. When a reporter asked him why it was so important to have a gender-balanced cabinet, his pith was like the bat flip heard ‘round the world: “Because it’s 2015.”

8. Why do we need Alex Gino’s book about transgender children? Because it’s 2015.


4.5 Squinkles 

Alex Gino’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Chapters

Thank you, Scholastic, for sending me a copy of George in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

The Last Kids on Earth (Max Brallier)

29 Oct

Squinks, just in time for Halloween, I’ve got a title to die for (mwahaha). Max Brallier’s The Last Kids on Earth is full of terrifying fun and adventure that’s perfect for this time of year. Oh, and there are zombies.


Last Kids On Earth


Squinklethoughts1. Okay, so zombies aren’t really my thing. And no, I don’t watch The Walking Dead, but I know many of YOU like it, which is why I gave it a whirl. For someone who’s not into these kinds of stories, I was pleasantly surprised to have enjoyed it.

2. Brallier is terrifically funny. The humour starts right off the bat with the first page, and it continues all throughout the story. You’ll love Jack Sullivan’s voice, – I can certainly hear many of you in him – for he’s full of amusing one-liners and witty observations.

3. Speaking of Jack, I love how cautiously optimistic he is. I mean, it IS rather a feat to be dealing with monsters and zombies taking over the town. Jack knows where his strengths lie, although he does have some laugh-out-loud moments of delusions (“I’m a zombie-fighting, monster-slaying, tornado of cool … And I will Rescue June Del Toro and complete the ULTIMATE Feat of Apocalyptic Success!”), and his plans to rescue June are not always completely thought out. He is fiercely loyal to his best friend, Quint, though, and for that, he’s a hero in my books.


Last Kids on Earth - Jack Sullivan 

4. I’m sure many of you will find a lot to like in Jack and Quint’s friendship. They work well together despite being very different. For one thing, Quint is always tinkering with things and using science to solve problems, while Jack is more about bat swinging and monster jumping. This combination serves them well when they’re two of the last kids on Earth.

5. I’m also happy that June Del Toro is a lovely damsel not in distress. And I’ve always been used to (and enjoyed) being the only girl in a group of boys, so that bit was particularly interesting to me. June’s feisty, but she’s pretty cool to Jack, so I find her a welcome addition to the growing posse that includes Dirk, an erstwhile-bully-turned-friend.


Last Kids on Earth - June Del Toro 

6. For those of you who love to draw, I’m sure you’ll find great inspiration in Douglas Holgate’s illustrations. They really add spirit to the story – in fact, much of the tale is told through the images, so not only do the drawings enhance the tale, they are actually vital parts of the plot as well. This book is like part graphic novel, which really adds to its appeal. I particularly like the many faces of Blarg. And I have to admit – Rover is rather cute.

7. What can I say about this book that I didn’t like? Well, except for the fact that there are monsters and zombies, and I now wonder what’s lurking outside my window every time I turn off the lights, not much. This may not have been my cup of tea, but I’m positive many of you will enjoy it nonetheless. I’d give it just under 4 stars … like 3.87, maybe. ‘Cause, as I mentioned, monsters and zombies.


4 Squinkles 

Max Brallier’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Chapters

Douglas Holgate’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Instagram


Thank you, Penguin Canada, for sending me a copy of The Last Kids on Earth in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Eddie Red Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile (Marcia Wells)

14 Oct

I was very happy to discover the Eddie Red Undercover series last year, and after reading it with some of my Squinks this past month, I’m happy to tell you that they loved it as well.


Eddie Red - Mystery on Museum Mile


Eddie Lonnrot is in grade 6 at a private school that he loves to attend. But financial troubles are threatening his attendance for the next school year. How will he find enough money to pay for tuition? Luckily (or maybe not), a situation presents itself in the form of helping to catch a mastermind art thief and his cohorts that have the NYPD stumped. And luckily (though not for the thief), Eddie has a photographic memory, which is just what the detectives need to nail the Picasso gang. With a little bit of reluctant acceptance from his parents and a lot of support from his best friend, Jonah, Eddie Red is born.

Squinklethoughts1. When I read books like Eddie Red Undercover, I always find myself lamenting over the fact that I didn’t have these books to entertain me while I was growing up. I would have loved to have immersed myself in Mystery on Museum Mile if for nothing else but that it was really fun and easy to read.

2. Eddie’s a great character who knows his place. He celebrates his skills, but he knows his shortcomings. He handles Jonah and his sometimes-wacky ways, which I give him a lot of credit for – I definitely do not have the same kind of patience he has. I wasn’t particularly fond of that one scene where he begs his mom to let him work with the NYPD, but I could see how a sixth-grader could do it. I also like that he celebrates his love of knowledge. Eddie likes many of the things that I do, including solving puzzles, looking at maps, and learning languages, which endears me to him. And the fact that he draws so well when I draw so NOT well only makes me applaud him more.

3. I don’t know anyone (adult or child) who doesn’t want to someday visit New York City or who didn’t enjoy his or her trip there. I, for one, really love it when I get the chance to explore the Big Apple because it just doesn’t run out of things to see and do and experience. I liked learning about Fifth Avenue and the various museums on Museum Mile, including the Neue Galerie, which I hear about far less often than the Guggenheim or MOMA.


Eddie Red - 5th Ave


4. The illustrations in this book are fantastic. I’m really really terrible at drawing, so I always appreciate artists who can draw faces and people without requiring divine intervention of some sort. The only thing I wish is for there to have been more of a variation of pictures. Although there were a few other things, most of the illustrations were of people. At some point, it’d be nice to see what else Eddie sees to really enhance my appreciation of the story.  All that aside, Marcos Calo does a truly phenomenal job.  I encourage you to look at his other works.

5. Wells is funny. The one-liners that Eddie has, especially in reaction to Detective Bovano, are just chortle-chortle funny, which is my kind of humour. It wasn’t only once or twice that I heard giggles from a student reading this book because he had just read another one of Eddie’s gems about Bovano warming up to him.

6. One of my Squinks wants to know what happens to Detective Bovano at the end of the story. We’d like to think that he’ll pop up every once in a while in the other books – maybe if Eddie visits a spaghetti place or something. We had fun coming up with names of these pasta restaurants. “Sauce Boss” and “Meatballs for Mobster Nappers” were at the top of our list.

7. The next two books, Mystery in Mayan Mexico (April 2015) and Doom at Grant’s Tomb (April 2016), will definitely find a home in our school library.


Eddie Red - 2nd and 3rd


8. Eddie Red is über cool.  You should definitely check him out.


4 Squinkles


Marcia Wells’ Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Chapters

Thank you, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for sending me a copy of Eddie Red Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

The Blackthorn Key (Kevin Sands)

7 Oct

I was so pleased to receive a couple of copies of the Blackthorn Key at a blogger event this summer. In fact, the very Monday after the meet-up, I began teaching it because I had already finished reading it, and I knew I just had to share.


Blackthorn Key - Poster


If you’ve been searching for a book with mystery, heart, and a little bit of history, this is the perfect book for you. I’m happy to say that my students loved this book – and they were very engaged in the culminating tasks I had them do, including a hashtag image (below) and book poster (above). It was the perfect way to end summer school. And now, well, there’s a waitlist for our school copies.


1. I’ve found historical fiction to be hit or miss with younger students, so I was happy that the historical aspect of this novel was not a deterrent for my kids. Personally, I LOVE history and tying dates and events together, so I really enjoyed learning about Oak Apple Day. It became even more interesting to correlate the real feast days with the fictional events to find themes in Sands’ story.

Blackthorn Key - Hashtags

2. I’ve got an unusual affinity for chemistry. Unusual only because I teach humanities and social sciences, and, oh yeah, I hate math. But I LOVE chemistry, so I was particularly drawn to the formulae and concoctions scattered throughout the chapters. And “oil of vitriol” just sounds so old fashioned. I love it! (It also led to a great discussion on vitriolic diatribes …)

3. Speaking of chapters, there are many in this story, and none are too long. It’s got nothing to do with attention span; I think stories are much more exciting with shorter (but more) chapters. It might have to do with the fact that I flip the pages more often.

4. I really admire Christopher’s relationships with both Tom and Master Benedict. The fact that he is loved and respected by both a peer and a superior says a lot about his character, and the banter between the two boys, which only happens when two people are as close as they are, is funny and even enviable.

Blackthorn Key - Quotes 2

5. Christopher is honourable and loyal. He will defend and champion his best friend and master at all costs, and his fealty to them drives many of his choices throughout the novel. He is also exceedingly brave and inquisitive – characteristics that anyone would be lucky to possess. And though his inquisitiveness is what sometimes gets him into trouble, I’d argue that they inform his bravery as well.

Blackthorn Key - Quotes 0

6. I love codes and solving puzzles. Our class had a grand old time trying to solve the clues before reading the answers. It was also a great stepping stone to the various games we ended up playing in class.

Blackthorn Key - Quotes 1

7. There are a great many things that my students and I were able to discuss from this story, including solutions, planets, feast days, history. I can’t help but think that Sands had cross-curricular activities in mind when he wrote it. I love books that can be appreciated across the curricula, so that’s part of what puts this book at the top of my suggestions list. I think this story can be appealing to a wide range of kids.

8. This book seems to be a standalone – and it works well as it is – but my kids and I still wonder what happens after the last chapter. That’s always a sign of a great book.

* Teachers/parents, if you’d like a copy of the chapter-by-chapter reading questions I gave to my students, feel free to email me!


4.5 Squinkles


Kevin Sands’ Online Corners
Twitter | Goodreads | Chapters

Thank you, Simon and Schuster Canada, for giving me a copy of the Blackthorn Key in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Hamster Princess #1: Harriet the Invincible (Ursula Vernon)

5 Oct

Now that we’ve got September under our belts, let’s talk about more books! In particular, I want to share with you a fantastic series opener that boasts a fun, feisty, and fierce heroine named Harriet, whose adventures I can’t wait to read more about.


Hamster Princess - Harriet the Invincible


In this twist to Sleeping Beauty, Harriet finds herself growing up overly protected in a castle for 10 years … until she’s finally told the story of the curse set upon her at her christening by a wicked fairy godmouse. Rather than feeling depressed at the news that she is doomed to fall into a deep sleep when she’s 12, Harriet rejoices in the fact that she has TWO WHOLE YEARS to do whatever she wants because, after all, she has to stay alive until she’s 12 for the curse to work. And so she begins the best years of her life (so far), travelling up and down the countryside with her loyal quail, Mumfrey. Meanwhile, her evil fairy godmouse has vanished mysteriously …


1. Princess Harriet Hamsterbone is easily one of my favourite rodents in all of literature. She’s got wit and humour in spades, and she’s not afraid to show it. She’s also quite logical for a hamster, which is, you know, pretty cool. She knows her shortcomings, and she can work with them to do what needs to get done, including finding an elusive prince and fighting Ogrecats. Plus, Mumfrey’s pretty loyal to her, and that says a lot to me about what kind of friend she is.

Hamster Princess - Princessly Quote

2. Adults and children alike will enjoy Vernon’s wit, allusions, and general writing style. I found myself bursting out laughing at many of Harriet’s expressions. I love how she communicates with Mumfrey with just looks and qwerks. It’s not hard at all to read this book because Vernon’s writing is smooth and natural. You’ll forget that this is about rodents and other furry animals retelling Sleeping Beauty. You’ll like it just for what it is – a great, funny tale with an awesome heroine.

3. I’m all for varied narrative formats, and Harriet the Invincible is a great mixture of traditional narrative and graphic novel features. I love pictures, and people who think this book is “too young” for them on account of these pictures will miss out on something seriously great. Never mind that the drawings themselves are cute … Who wouldn’t want visual representations of the various facets of Harriet’s crazy personality? And Mumfrey’s expressions are just the greatest.  Click here for a preview of the book and the lovely illustrations!

4. I share birthday fairy dust with a princess. That makes me kind of princessly, too, right?

5. Princess Harriet, long may she reign. Find copies of this book in our library now.  The sequel, Hamster Princess: Of Mice and Magic, will be out March 2016.  I can’t wait!


Hamster Princess - Of Mice and Magic


4.5 Squinkles

Ursula Vernon’s Online Corners
Website | Other Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Chapters


Thank you, Dial Books for Young Readers, for sending me a copy of Harriet the Invincible, in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 77 other followers

%d bloggers like this: