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Mustaches for Maddie (Chad Morris and Shelly Brown)

6 Oct

If you’ve ever been faced with a grave illness, sometimes, you can find solace in knowing other people have gone through the same thing – even if those other people are charming characters in a novel.  Mustaches for Maddie is a great read for anyone who has ever worried a lot.

 

Mustaches for Maddie 1

Squinklethoughts

1.  Mustaches for Maddie is based on a true story, which makes it even more poignant.  I love Maddie.  She’s funny and sweet.  She’s annoyed with her brothers, but she loves them to death.  Her parents’ tears make her heart expand and feel squishy at the same time.  I love that she cares so much for her family, and she worries about how her diagnosis affects them.

2.  Aside from handling an illness, Maddie has to go through typical middle-grade problems, and it was great for the authors to explore this.  I was worried that they’d focus on Maddie being sick for the entire book, but the story delves into problems at school with friends, boys, and life in general, too.  Of course, the big problem in the story is how Maddie goes about her day as normally as she can while having a not-so-normal health issue, but it’s good for readers to know that the other things in life keep going … even though it’s hard to think much of anything else in Maddie’s situation.

 

Mustaches for Maddie  

3.  I loved Maddie’s friends, Lexi, Yasmin, and Devin.  They’re kind and loyal and the type of friends I would wish on anyone.  I also love that Maddie doesn’t always say or do the right thing when it comes to her schoolmates because it really is hard sometimes to say or do the right things at the right time.  She trips over herself (literally and figuratively), but she battles through the awkward moments.  Maddie’s stream of consciousness was a refreshing part of this book.  We get to hear (read) Maddie’s inner monologue about what she really wants to say and what she actually feels (about dragoporkisaurs, her twisty arm, and mean girls … you know, the usual stuff), so we know her true self … even though it’s hard for her sometimes to reveal it.  This makes her narration all the more authentic and interesting.

 

Mustaches for Maddie 3

 

4.  As an English teacher, I loved the fact that elementary kids are learning the major themes and popular lines in Shakespeare’s plays.  It makes it easier for high-school teachers to teach the Bard’s works, for sure.  I didn’t meet Shakey until I was in grade 9, so I really liked this part of Maddie’s school life.

5.  Cassie … ugh.  We all know a Cassie.  I have known several Cassies.  I love that the authors make her really malicious because it means they don’t shy away from the idea that there really are kids like that.  Sorry, Squinks.  There really are kids like that sometimes.

6.  Teachers, this is a great title to add to your school library, and especially your classrooms.  Shadow Mountain has even put together a very helpful guide for incorporating Mustaches for Maddie in your lessons.  Click here.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Chad Morris’ Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter

 

Shelly Brown’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter

 

Thank you, Shadow Mountain, for sending me a copy of Mustaches for Maddie in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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The Winnowing (Vikki VanSickle)

28 Sep

I don’t think I’ll ever not like a book written by Vikki VanSickle, and The Winnowing is no exception.  This is her first foray into sci-fi, and it definitely had me wanting more.

 

Winnowing

 

1.  I bought The Winnowing without knowing what the book is about.  That’s how much I trust VanSickle in her ability to tell a great story.  I’ve read all of her other books, and the one thing that ties them all together is that they are written with so much authenticity … I almost believe that her characters are real.  Marivic Stone is loyal, curious, and courageous.  She’s your typical teen, but when the people in her life are threatened or hurt, she does what she can to make sure the good guys win.  But she’s also flawed in that great way I love about pre-teens and adolescents.  She, like other great MCs, wants so badly to help that she almost trips over herself in her desire to do something even without a fully formulated plan.  Marivic (a great name with roots I’m very familiar with) feels so many emotions, and you just can’t help but cheer her on.

 

Winnowing 3

 

2.  As an English teacher (with a specialist degree in linguistics), I LOVE VanSickle’s word play and allusions throughout the novel.  She has created a story with homages to or hints of The Giver (Dr. Lowry and just generally the dystopian setting), Ender’s Game (the Kesla), and Brave New World (Somnease and the in/fertility issue).  Add to that references to J.J. Abrams, Gene Roddenberry, Krypton, and the X-Files (I’m guessing, since the setting is New Mexico, but as I haven’t actually seen any X-Files episodes, I can’t be sure …), and you’ve got a treasure trove of bread crumbs left for conspiracy-loving readers.  I’m sure there are some other sci-fi-specific references that flew by me.

3.  I love the banter/arguments/fights between Kamal and Marivic.  I’m sure Marivic hated them at first, but it’s just so much better to have scenes where the two principal players despise one another.  To his credit, Kamal slowly becomes a team player, even displaying a bit of sympathy towards Marivic at some point.

4.  This book reads like it’s meant to be a standalone, but I could definitely see there being a follow-up to explore the stories of Ren, Abbott, and even Gumps.  VanSickle’s developed the other characters enough to keep her readers interested in their back stories.

5.  In general, I wouldn’t put sci-fi stories very high on my list.  But even though this book is very clearly steeped in the sci-fi genre, what shines more are the topics of friendship, growing up, and accepting who you are.  Marivic and her friends (and non-friends) are tested in terms of their loyalty to one another, obsequiousness towards authority, and accepting their differences as strengths rather than weaknesses.  Because of this, The Winnowing can absolutely be read by anyone … even those who aren’t fond of Mulder and Scully.

 

Winnowing - VVS

 

6.  Teachers, Vikki VanSickle is a wonderful storyteller and read-aloud artist.  If you get the chance to have her visit your class/school, do it!  Your kids will love listening to her read from her novel (picture above taken during her reading at the Word on the Street festival), and they may even be encouraged to put pen to paper to write their own stories.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Vikki VanSickle’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Chapters/Indigo

 

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Beatrice Zinker, Upside-Down Thinker (Shelley Johannes)

18 Sep

It’s never too early to learn how to handle the quagmire that friendships can be.  I’m glad books like Beatrice Zinker, Upside-Down Thinker exist.

 

Beatrice Zinker, Upside-Down ThinkerSquinklethoughts1.  Shelley Johannes deals with a really tough issue that I don’t find tackled much in books for really young children.  Maybe I’m not getting the right books for my little ones, but I am happy to have this one on the shelf.  It’s hard whenever friends change, and you’re not sure if they’re your friends anymore.

2.  I like that Beatrice makes a friend in Lenny.  It must be difficult to think differently from others, though Beatrice seems to be of strong character.  It’s so great for her to meet someone who will let her be herself.

3.  All the trouble starts when Lenny comes back from summer vacation without remembering any of her and Beatrice’s plans for the new school year.  Do I really like her?  Well, I don’t not not like her.  But I know exactly how Beatrice feels when she realizes that Lenny is not Lenny anymore.  I don’t think I ever really warm up to her.

4.  The good thing about Lenny, though, is that she doesn’t seem cruel.  Although she hangs out with the new girl, Chloe, instead of Beatrice, she does feel genuinely scared for Beatrice when the latter hurts herself.  It’s interesting to see things from Lenny’s perspective (but I’m still not sure I like her).

5.  I wasn’t a fan of the whole action of the story happening in one day.  I’m not sure why the author thought all of Beatrice’s plans would be better executed on the first day of school, but the story is short enough, so maybe there will be follow-up stories that explore the rest of the school year.  I think I would have found it better if it had taken a while for Beatrice and Lenny to have their important conversation.

6.  Johannes’ writing is fun, and I think all kids would enjoy Beatrice Zinker’s story.  The rhymes bounce off the tongue really well, but since the story is a mix of both prose and poetry, you won’t get tired of the rhymes after a while either.  The illustrations are also wonderful.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Shelley Johannes’ Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

 

Thank you, Disney Book Group, for sending me a copy of Beatrice Zinker, Upside-Down Thinker in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Saints and Misfits (S.K. Ali)

14 Sep

What happens when a person that everyone believes to be a saint is actually a monster?  Do you let the monster be, or do you cast a light to shine on his/her true self?  Boy is Janna’s predicament one that is more common than you realize.

 

Saints and Misfits

Squinklethoughts

1.  Janna Yusuf is an excellent heroine.  She deals with the inevitable troubles of being different in a mature but very real way, and it’s something that, as a book champion and book pusher, I’m thankful for.  Too often, writers include every possible emotion that people can go through in an attempt to showcase pre-teen and teen angst.  Yes, of course there are a lot of emotions that inevitably pop up in our late-elementary and high-school years, but it doesn’t mean every single one of them has to be analyzed or even explored in a novel.  I know enough of Janna’s struggles to love her and welcome her onto my bookshelf.

2.  Let me explain more.  S.K. Ali understands that young people are not yet done growing up.  Whenever Janna tries to figure out what to do with a bad situation or how to behave whenever she sees the monster, Ali writes it in a way that doesn’t reflect the kind of overwhelming maturity that Janna wouldn’t have.  Janna is confused and hesitant and … unfinished.  Beautifully unfinished.  So many girls will make a friend in Janna.

3.  I loved learning about various aspects of Muslim and Indian cultures, especially the expectations put upon people who grow up in families of mixed cultures and religions.  What I loved even more was the fact that I know so many students who will read Janna’s story and be encouraged to be themselves.  Although there are various religious- and culturally specific concepts in this story, it really is a tale that many girls can relate to.  It is a true bildungsroman, capturing the ups and downs of Janna growing up, testing the waters, and finding herself, including the roles that religion and faith play in her life.

4.  There are lots of other strong characters, too.  I kind of wish, for example, that the story of Janna’s mom was explored a little more.  Janna’s friends are mostly great, and I’m glad that Ali didn’t make them too one-sided just because Janna, herself, is a strong character.

5.  **Spoiler Alert** Parents/teachers: The inciting incident in this story is the attempted rape of Janna by someone from her own mosque.  The lead-up to it is described, but since it doesn’t quite happen, there isn’t much in the way of specific details.  Nonetheless, it may be too sensitive for some young’uns.  I suggest reading the first few chapters to see if you think it would be okay for your kids.  On that note, I’m glad that the plot gets kicking right away.  It really leaves more room in the book for the aftermath.

6.  Ali’s writing a second novel.  Another YA story, this time featuring “an ensemble cast of diverse souls, as well as LOVE” per her Goodreads bio page.  Can’t wait.

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

S.K. Ali’s Online Corners
Website | Twitter | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Simon and Schuster Canada, for sending me a copy of Saints and Misfits in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

The Blackthorn Key #3: The Assassin’s Curse (Kevin Sands)

12 Sep

I love that so far, for the last three years, I’ve had a literary adventure to look forward to in September.  It almost makes going back to our regularly scheduled school program bearable.  Almost.  I’m just glad there’s another Blackthorn Key book.

 

Blackthorn Key - Assassin's Curse

Squinklethoughts

1.  The original Blackthorn Key series was absolutely fantastic.  I got a copy of it during the summer of 2015, and I made it the book for our novel-study unit a few weeks later.  I couldn’t put it down, and I’m glad that Kevin Sands has kept up the series.

2.  Christopher and Tom’s friendship is one for the books (hehe).  They get along so well, but more than that, you can tell that they have genuine respect for one another.  Christopher is, by now, known for getting himself into scrapes – completely by chance, of course – and solving riddles to get out of them.  But Tom is equally important in this adventure, and I’m glad that this is addressed in the opening pages, for while Christopher has saved London numerous times, his best friend has saved him just as often.  It’s a really great friendship that I love to read about.

3.  The addition of Sally (and Bridget) to the fold is aces.  Some of my kids weren’t too thrilled about it at first, but they eventually came round to appreciating Sally’s role with the boys.  Indeed, she does a great job again in this story where she handles her own as the Lady Grace.

4.  Kevin Sands is funny.  The banter among the trio is funny and witty – totally my type of humour.  Christopher is always thinking up crazy schemes, and Tom is one step ahead of him.  Well, he just knows his best friend well.  Even though he never stops Christopher from doing things, like turning famous paintings in the Louvre upside down, he’s comfortable enough to give Christopher a piece of his mind.  And Sally is great at keeping the peace between the two of them when things get too hot to handle.

 

Blackthorn Key - Assassins Curse - Quote

 

5.  I love that this book takes the kids to Paris.  My students were so pleased to be able to translate the various French phrases before Sands gives their English translations.  In fact, I would have liked more of this in the story.  Maybe it’s because we all grew up with French classes every day, but I thought readers could’ve definitely handled the challenge of figuring out les expressions françaises.  I mean, it’s like a code in itself, trying to understand another language, eh?

6.  I’m so happy that Master Benedict is everywhere in this book, just as he is in all the other books.  I think his conversations with Christopher may be my favourite parts of the entire series.  Kids need to know – everyone needs to know – that the people we love leave indelible prints on our hearts.  I just love that Sands explores this.

7.  I think I like this book more than the second one, Mark of the Plague.  Not quite sure why.  It might be that the codes and puzzles feel harder this time round, or that it’s set in Paris, or that the kids are surrounded by royalty, or that the storyline is full of Knights Templar allusions … I just loved it all.  I couldn’t put it down.

8.  I hope that Sands stays true to his pattern and that a fourth book will be due next September.  Actually, I hope another story comes out sooner because boy, the cliffhanger at the end!.  But I’ll be happy as long as this series continues for many more books to come.  It really is that great.

 

5 Squinkles

 

Kevin Sands’ Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Simon and Schuster Canada, for sending me a copy of The Blackthorn Key: The Assassin’s Curse in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

 

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