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Karma Khullar’s Mustache (Kristi Wientge)

15 Aug

Over the years, the stories that have become the most borrowed and requested by my students are those that tackle universal issues with idiosyncratic flairs.  This is exactly the strength of Karma Khullar’s Mustache by Kristi Wientge, and I have no hesitation recommending it to you, Squinks!

 

Karma Khullar's Mustache

Squinklethoughts

1.  At the heart of this novel is a girl who isn’t looking to shine – just fit in.  Isn’t that how everyone feels when they’re starting a new school?  It’s hard enough changing from being the kings and queens of elementary school to becoming the guppies of middle school, but over the summer, poor Karma discovers SEVENTEEN little hairs above her lip … which is basically the end of the world.  I like that Wientge understands how big of a deal this is for some people.

2.  Karma’s moustache is the impetus for a lot of her troubles, not the least of which is earning the nickname “’Stache Attack”, but there are far worse obstacles for Karma to overcome.  The worst of it is that her best friend no longer seems to be her best friend.  I know what it’s like to lose a friend for no reason at all (at least no reason that I could foresee or understand).  Karma and Kate have been friends for years, and all of a sudden, Kate’s interests are different from Karma’s.  It was really heartbreaking that Karma was in a state of limbo.  Should she even care that Kate doesn’t like her anymore?  And yet, it’s so hard not to care about things like that.

3.  And then Lacy moves in across the street from Kate, and all of Karma’s fears deepen.  How can she compete with the girl who seems to be so well put together, while she can’t even figure out how to get rid of 17 stinkin’ strands of hair?

4.  That scene in the lunchroom where Karma tries to enjoy her tiffin full of delicious dal and chapati had me in tears.  Wientge illustrates a scene right out of my own childhood where I was made fun of for bringing squid and rice for lunch – one of my absolute favourite dishes, which I suddenly had no appetite for after being taunted by my grade-2 classmates.  Have a tissue on hand when you get to this part.

5.  Karma’s inner monologue reminds me a lot of Lizzie McGuire.  I never watched the original series, though I did see the movie.  I like how Karma is, for the most part, realistic about life, but I also enjoyed reading bits and pieces of her overdramatic thoughts about school, people, and her moustache.  I’m sure I felt the same way when I was younger.

6.  I liked learning about Sikhism and some of the traditional foods that Karma and her Indian-American family eat.  As a child of a mixed-race marriage, Karma has the added challenge of melding two traditions together.  I would have liked a bit more of that.  Karma complains about how her mom’s blonde hair would probably not be so noticeable over her upper lip, and there are a few conversations between her parents that hint at differences in upbringing, but I wanted a bit more.  Wientge sort of gets away with not going into too much detail when Karma admits that she only goes to church and temple a few times a year.  I don’t think the lack of detail about the two religions or the two cultures took away from the story, but I think the details could’ve added to it.

7.  I read this book very quickly because I was highly invested in Karma’s journey.  I think that’s what makes this a great story.  I was as sad as she was when those awkward moments with Kate happen; I was as humiliated as she was when the kids make fun of her lunch; I was as indignant (but helpless) as she was when she is blamed for something she didn’t do.  I really wanted a happy ending for her.

8.  Wientge combines Karma’s specific situation with universal problems, which will make Karma Khullar’s Mustache appealing to all readers.  I would definitely pick up the sequel if there were to be one.

 

4.5 Squinkles  

Kristi Wientge’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Chapters/Indigo

Thank you, Simon and Schuster Canada, for sending me a copy of Karma Khullar’s Mustache in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

York #1: The Shadow Cipher (Laura Ruby)

26 Jul

Codes, ciphers, secrets?  Count me in!  If you want an adventure that requires a bit of thinking and a lot of running, you’ll definitely want to pick up Laura Ruby’s York: The Shadow Cipher.

 

York 1 - Shadow Cipher

Squinklethoughts

1.  I have been waiting and waiting for the next great puzzle adventure, and I’m glad that it is the York series.  We love The 39 Clues (by various authors) and The Copernicus Legacy (by Tony Abbott), and now, we’ve got York to add to the list.

2.  I’m not a fan of time-travelling stories, but I LOVE stories where people in the past leave clues for folk in the future.  In 1798, Tess and Theodore Morningstarr begin their work of revamping New York City using mysterious technology that is super avant-garde.  Just before they disappear, they leave behind a puzzle called the Old York Cipher.  How cool is that?  If you like stories with advanced technology, you’ll love all the gizmos and gadgets in this one.

3.  Fast forward to the present day, and Tess and Theo Biedermann, along with their friend, Jaime Cruz, go all around the city, trying to solve the puzzle that no one has been able to solve since the Morningstarrs bequeathed it to NYC.  And for them, it’s not a matter of just getting the right answer … because solving the puzzle could mean saving their homes.  I love it when characters are tasked with impossible tasks.

4.  The twins are great in this story.  They don’t always get along; in fact, they often get on each other’s nerves.  I like that Ruby decided not to have twins who are completely in synch with one another.  This way, there’s more excitement.  And since this is only the beginning of the series, I do wonder if Ruby will make her readers gasp by … separating the twins at some point.  Oh, boy, would that be fun to read.

5.  Jaime’s story is one I definitely want to know more about.  Ruby’s given us bits and pieces, but I want more.  His and his grandmother’s close relationship is very enviable, and, I think, a great, calming force in the story.

6.  Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different character, which makes for an interesting read.  In the beginning, I had to flip back to the first pages of the chapters to remind myself who was narrating, but you get used to it.  It’s a great way to get to know more about the characters through what they want you to know about them.

7.  This is an excellent book for school and classroom libraries.  I will probably be adding this to my curriculum next year, so check back to see the questions and activities I create!

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

Laura Ruby’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Tumblr | Chapters/Indigo

Thank you, HarperCollins and Walden Pond Press, for sending me a copy of York 1: The Shadow Cipher in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Cyclone (Doreen Cronin)

24 Jul

What would you do if it were your fault that your cousin is in a coma?  I received a bunch of books all at the same time as Cyclone, but it jumped to the top of my list when I read the blurb.

 

Cyclone

Squinklethoughts1.  Squinks, I can’t imagine feeling the kind of guilt that Nora does.  It would be so overwhelming that I wouldn’t be able to breathe.  Not only does she feel guilty, but she can’t tell anyone why Riley agreed to ride a roller coaster she was afraid of to begin with.

2.  I love that Nora and Riley have a really close relationship.  I have cousins I love and speak to from time to time, but they live far away, and we only see each other maybe once a year.  How lucky that these girls are close enough in age to find a friend in one another.

3.  Okay, so I was lured in by Doreen Cronin’s blurb at the back of the book, but I have to tell you … she had me hooked to the story from the get-go.  I really liked how easy it was to put myself in Nora’s shoes.  Every time a chapter ended, I just wanted to know more: Will she ever reveal what forced Riley to ride the Cyclone with her?  Who is that mystery guy?  Will Riley get better?

4.  I loved, loved, loved, the storyline around the three sisters.  It adds an interesting and emotional layer to Riley’s ordeal.  I really enjoyed the idea that it takes Riley’s situation to bring the sisters back together again.  The three of them have such different personalities, but can they find a common thread?  Sisters.  Family.  Love it.

5.  The scenes where Riley talks to Sophia in Spanish broke my heart.  I teared up a bit, thinking about how Nora’s heart must have been breaking, too.  All the feels.

 

Cyclone 2  

6.  Parents/teachers, there are so many teachable moments in this story, from how to deal with guilt, how to handle secrets, the oddness that is family, and even how to talk to people who have family members in the hospital.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Doreen Cronin’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Chapters/Indigo

 

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

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Mighty Jack #1 (Ben Hatke)

20 Mar

So, if you like fairytale adaptations like I do, you’ll probably have a really good time with the first book in the Mighty Jack series.

 

Mighty Jack  

Squinklethoughts 1.  I’ve always had an issue with Jack and his magic beanstalk.  How could he have given up his cow for a few measly beans?  This time round, though, Ben Hatke makes Jack a little more mature, a little more kindly, a little less self-centred, and only a little … silly.  Oh, and he’s a little grumpy, but I didn’t mind that because I like talking back to grumpy characters.

2.  I’ve had a few kids of all grades and linguistic abilities read this already, and they’ve all enjoyed it.  The fourth-grader laughed out loud a lot, and the mom of the eighth-grader mentioned to me that he had stayed up late one night just so that he could finish the book.  An ESL student also told me that she really enjoyed it, which speaks to the universality of Hatke’s retelling.

3.  The illustrations in this book are aces.  The panels and page layouts are varied, so the story doesn’t lull, and I particularly enjoyed that there were a lot of things going on in the gutters.

4.  This isn’t just a happily-ever-after story.  Parts of the story are lip-quaver-inducing. For example, Jack’s mom has to work overtime because they need money for food; and Maddy, Jack’s sister, is autistic, so Jack often finds it difficult to connect with her.

5.  The first book ends on such a cliffhanger (reader, beware), so my kids are all waiting for the next installment.  I think that if the series stretches out to a few more book, it would be a prime opportunity for Hatke to develop Maddy’s character.  I wonder if she’ll become the true heroine of the story.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Ben Hatke’s Online Corners
Website | Twitter | Instagram | Chapters

 

Thank you, Raincoast Books, for sending me a copy of
Mighty Jack in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are my own.

Isabella for Real (Margie Palatini)

17 Mar

I bet we’ve all wondered how our lives would change if we were all of a sudden famous, right?  Squinks, here’s a great story about a little girl named Isabella who suddenly finds fame … and finds out that it’s not quite what she expected it to be.

 

Isabella for Real   

1.  I don’t know that I’ve ever truly wanted to be famous.  As the eldest child, I know what it’s like to have siblings watching and copying my every move, so I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed being in the limelight much.  One of the biggest reasons I liked Isabella for Real is that Isabella’s expectations of fame change very quickly once she finds it.  I know she doesn’t really ask to be famous, but I loved the struggle she has with figuring it all out.

2.  My family is pretty kooky, so I completely enjoyed meeting all of Isabella’s eccentric relatives.  Plus, they keep her grounded, which is what all good families should do, so I’m glad she can count on them (even if they are sometimes  sources of potential embarrassment).

3.  I first fell in love with LeUyen Pham’s illustration when I read the Alvin Ho stories.  The drawings are just wonderful, and the comic strips in this story really propel it along.  To be honest, I wonder why the entire story wasn’t written in comic strips.

4.  I like epistolary novels and diary stories.  There’s something about the first-person perspective that just works with certain books, and this is one of them.  I like that Isabella for Real combines movie storyboards, comic strips, diary entries, and traditional narrative.  That’s kind of how my mind is.

5.  I’m glad that this book tackles the highs and lows of social media.  Smart phones and social apps weren’t really around in my day (dinosaur times, I know), so the problems that arise from them have only begun to find their way into MG and YA stories.  For this reason alone, I think Isabella for Real would be valuable in any elementary library or classroom.  (And for when the kids are older: Sophie Kinsella has a very funny take on Instagram in her novel My Not-So-Perfect Life.)

 

4 Squinkles

 

Margie Palatini’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Chapters

 

Thank you, Raincoast Books, for sending me a copy of
Isabella for Real in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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