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Potion Masters #2: The Transparency Tonic (Frank L. Cole)

16 Jan

Happy 2019, Squinks!  I’m so happy to be able to start off this new year again with a great middle-grade novel.  Potion Masters #2 is out, and it’s got everything we loved about the first book and more!

 

Potion Masters 2 - Transparency Tonic

Squinklethoughts

1.  Brewing whiz Gordy Stitser and his friends, Adilene and Max, are back for more adventures and explosions.  It’s the beginning of eighth grade, so of course, the trio are faced with more than just end-of-elementary celebrations and jittery pre-high-school nerves.  If you’re looking for more action outside of classrooms and after school, then you’ll really enjoy this one.  We don’t get too many pages about their latest lessons – there’s just way too much fun happening outside of school for that!

2.  I have grown to really love Gordy.  He’s intelligent and kind, a little foolhardy sometimes, but he’s taming his wild impulses.  He gets along very well with his friends AND family, which is not always the case for many kids his age.  I especially love it when he just knows he’s going to get in trouble with his mom for doing something he ought not to be doing.  I can almost imagine him groaning in anticipation for the punishment about to be doled out.

3.  I don’t know if I’m predominantly amused or completely bugged by Max.  He IS a loyal friend to Gordy, and his antics towards Adilene seem typical of someone who will eventually open his eyes to see her awesomeness someday, so he’s by no means a bad person.  But ugh … Max’s persistence borders on annoyance sometimes, and that drives me bonkers, lol!  I do love that he’s always hungry though.  Twenty-four-hour waffle house, anyone?

4.  Jury’s still out on Sasha.  I don’t know if I can trust her.  No spoilers here, but I’m one-hundred-percent sure that there’s more to her than meets the eye.

5.  Cadence.  Beautiful name.  Strange girl.

6.  It’s often hard to find stories (in books or in movies) where the sequel lives up to the original, but this is definitely one that goes beyond the OG story.  There’s more banter among the friends, more complications in the elixirists’ world, more complicity and duplicity, more explosions and twists and turns … just more of everything!

7.  My favourite part is still the Glossary of Potions at the end of the book.  Now if only Cole would add a map and even more potions from all over the world next time!  One can hope …

8.  Teachers/parents: I really love this series.  I hope it continues for many, many books.  My students are very drawn to the characters and the complexity of Cole’s story.  It’s as enticing and full of intelligent twists as the Blackthorn Key series, which we also love.  For my review of the first Potion Masters book, click here.

 

5 Squinkles

 

Frank L. Cole’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Shadow Mountain, for sending me a copy of Potion Masters: The Transparency Tonic in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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You Go First (Erin Entrada Kelly)

30 Oct

If anyone needs a reminder that one person can make a difference in the life of another, this is the book for you.  Kelly’s sweet story will touch young and old alike.

 

You Go First

Squinklethoughts

1.  Charlotte and Ben are two average middle-schoolers trying to get through life that’s recently thrown them a few curve balls.  It’s hard enough for Charlotte to deal with her dad being in hospital after a heart attack, but now she has to navigate the murky waters of a BFF breakup, too.  Ben, meanwhile, has to resolve his feelings over his parents’ imminent divorce while juggling bullies and a bid for a student-council position.  Thank goodness Charlotte and Ben find one another as they’re dealing with their separate issues.  Even a friendly text now and then can ease the burden of a particularly terrible day.

2.  I’ve been in Charlotte’s position of dealing with the death of a friendship.  I’m glad Kelly doesn’t make it dramatic or messy – no big showdown in the cafeteria or confrontation in the girls’ washroom.  Sometimes friendships end quietly.  But I’m really happy that the pain of going through this kind of breakup is conveyed throughout the story.  I’m also especially pleased that there’s no scene where the adults try to help her deal with the end of that friendship.  Sometimes adults forget what it’s like to be kids, and no matter how well-meaning their intentions are, life (and later generations) don’t always work the way adults think it does (or should).  Sometimes two people just shouldn’t be friends, and that’s okay.

3.  On the other hand, I think I was waiting for just a bit more emotions from Ben towards his parents.  He stews about the divorce on his own, which I totally get, but I was left hanging when the family don’t really discuss much of anything related to it.  Even just the the logistics of living in different houses and the repercussions of not seeing both parents every day, I think, would be a pretty big change for any middle-grader.  Also, considering the huge scene at the end, I wanted to read about just deserts.

4.  I’m glad that the ending of the book isn’t incredibly tidy, but hopeful nonetheless.  I would have liked a bit more interaction between Charlotte and Ben, considering their lives intersect at some point.  I’ve only read the ARC version, though, so perhaps there’s an epilogue or something in the final copy.

5.  The dual-narrative structure here works very well.  I particularly enjoyed Kelly’s subheadings and preambles at the start of each chapter, which I found myself eagerly anticipating.

6.  Kelly’s writing style is very pleasing, and I think that’s one of the reasons my students have enjoyed this book so much.  Each character has a distinct voice, for sure, but there’s something inviting about the way Kelly writes.  It’s as if she knows the right combination of words to make kids feel safe and welcome in her story, and at the same time, she evokes memories in her adult readers about what it was like to be young once.  I’m very much looking forward to reading The Land of Forgotten Girls and Kelly’s other works.

7.  Teachers/parents: I read somewhere that a reader didn’t like this book because he/she thought the author is encouraging kids to be strangers on the internet.  Um, no.  That completely misses the point.  Yes, Charlotte and Ben do meet online, but on a student site geared towards and exclusive to student scrabble players, which means that registration is probably verified and monitored by teachers who actually know the kids.  It’s also made clear that Charlotte and Ben had been playing using pseudonyms for months before they eventually became friends, and even then, they had a hard time discussing personal issues.  The way the two meet, which can absolutely be addressed by parents and teachers, shouldn’t take the focus away from the comfort and stability that each character brings to the other.  There’s so much to love about this story.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Erin Entrada Kelly’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Greenwillow Books, for sending me a copy of You Go First in exchange for an honest review.  All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Squint (Chad Morris & Shelly Brown)

14 Oct

Middle school is hard enough, but imagine having to go through all the craziness of school while also losing your vision.  In Squint, Morris and Brown introduce Flint, a very sweet and uplifting character who’s going blind and is not part of the in-crowd, but who finds solace in drawing his comic book and making a new friend.

 

Squint Squinklethoughts

1.  Squint (real name Flint) is such a nice guy.  I wish there were more kids like him.  He’s very observant about the dynamics of school and how people interact with one another.  He’s also quite honest about his fears about losing his sight, not finishing his comic book on time, and generally not ever being accepted.  What I love most about him is his authenticity.  The story is told from his perspective, and I think my students will really find a friend in him because he tells his story well.

2.  McKell is also a great character.  It must be difficult dealing with a terminally ill sibling.  It’s one thing to deal with death, but even at my “mature” (ha) age, I still find it hard to hear that someone my age is dying.  Mostly, I’m happy that McKell chooses to not follow her friends in the way they make fun of Squint.  I’m hoping that someone who reads this story will be inspired by McKell deciding to befriend him instead of treating him poorly.  Imagine what both of them would miss out on if they had never met.

3.  I love that Squint lists various rules.  In fact, I think they would have made great chapter subtitles!

4.  This whole narrative gently nudges readers to consider their choices carefully without seeming too … preachy, for lack of a better word.  When Squint’s grandpa encourages him to be proud of the hard work he puts into his drawings, it highlights the idea that quitting, while sometimes easier, is not necessarily the best choice.  And when Squint comes into the kitchen with a glint in his eye, and his grandma tells him that his grandpa would advise him to treat his friend really well, it was a much nicer way of teaching Squint to be considerate of others.  You catch more flies with honey, they say, eh?

 

Squint 2  

5.  I like the multimodal aspects of the story.  Besides the rules that Squint mentions periodically, there are comic-book excerpts and text exchanges between the characters.  They enhance the story simply by giving readers a break from the traditional narrative format.  More and more, I see my young readers devouring these kinds of texts.

6.  Teachers/parents: You’ll definitely want to add this story to your shelves.  It’s a nice way to introduce readers to topics like fitting in, making friends, being sick, getting advice from your grandparents, and ultimately accepting who you are.

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

Chad Morris’ Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter

Shelly Brown’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter

 

Thanks, Shadow Mountain, for sending me a copy of Squint in exchange for an honest review.  All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Megabat (Anna Humphrey and Kass Reich)

17 Sep

The tagline alone will hook you: “Itty-bitty bat, mega personality.”  Megabat is a sweet story about friends who discover each other by chance and hatch a plot to get one home … only to realize that they’ve already made a new home with one another.

 

Megabat Squinklethoughts

1.  Daniel is sad to have left his friends behind when he and his family moved three hours away, but soon, his mind is occupied with other thoughts.  Megabat is sad to be so, so far away from his home and family (definitely more than three hours away), but since Daniel doesn’t chase him off with a broom, he supposes that the boy may not be all that bad.  Sometimes we find people at the time in our lives when we need them most, and this is a great message in the story.

2.  It was cool learning a bit about Papaya Paradise, Megabat’s home, and I think kids would enjoy this part, too.  I would’ve liked to know some more though – maybe a comparison between Borneo’s and Toronto-ish’s climates, available food sources, or even natural predators, all of which Megabat has to contend with.

 

Megabat 2  

3.  This story is super cute, but I’m not completely sold on the author’s choice to have Megabat speak a sort of pidgin language.  On the one hand, I appreciate the fact that a talking bat wouldn’t have the same English-language skills as Daniel or Talia (Daniel’s new neighbour and friend), but how would Megabat have even known to speak his simplified version of English?  Also, the ease with which Daniel and Talia understand Megabat seems unlikely to me.  I know this might seem like a nitpicky thing, especially when considering that the story is lovely, but from a teacher’s perspective, I would find it difficult to use this text in class.  I’d be worried about how much of Megabat’s grammar my young students might retain.

4.  On the other hand, I can totally see someone reading this aloud to his/her kids (or students!) and employing a made-up or cutesy voice for Megabat.  If done well, that’s something I’m sure readers/listeners would enjoy.

5.  Bottom line: Despite the awkwardness that might come from Megabat’s grammar/diction, the sweet, underlying messages of friendship and family make this a worthwhile read for young kids.  There’s still a lot of good stuff to take away from this story.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Anna Humphrey’s Online Corners
Website | Twitter | Instagram | Chapters/Indigo

Kass Reich’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Tumblr | Instagram | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Tundra Books, for sending me a copy of Megabat in exchange for an honest review.  All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Ella and Owen #1: The Cave of Aaaaah! Doom! (Jaden Kent)

12 Sep

Sibling rivalries make for awesome stories – in real life and in books.  If you’ve got young’uns who love to squabble with their brothers and/or sisters, they might love the antics of twins Ella and Owen!

 

Ella and Owen 1 Squinklethoughts

1.  Okay, so Ella and Owen don’t always fight … sometimes, they just argue.  In this first of a long-running series, Owen has a cold, but it’s not so bad.  He can stay in bed to read stories about hairy trolls, magical fairies, and heroic dragons.  But Ella thinks they should look for Orlock Morlock, a dragon wizard who is rumoured to be able to cure anything.  It will probably be smooth sailing, right?  My students got into this story right away, and it has a lot to do with its compelling intro.

2.  The story has some very imaginative features, including Ella and Owen encountering an ogre (a little terrifying) and an evil veggie wizard (super terrifying).  Lots of great fun!

 

Ella and Owen 1 - 1-2

 Ella and Owen 1 - 3-4  

3.  The sibling love-hate relationship thing works very well in this story, and engenders lots of funny dialogue between the two main characters.  I’m sure many readers can imagine having similar conversations about escaping ogres and other fantastical creatures with their own dear siblings.

4.  The illustrations are great and really bring out the personalities of Ella and Owen – not to mention the other characters they encounter!  Even better is the fact that the first book ends on a very exciting cliffhanger – my students were begging for the follow-up.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Jaden Kent’s Online Corners
Website | Chapters/Indigo – the 2nd book!

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