Tag Archives: 2015

Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye (Tania Del Rio & Will Staehle)

13 Jan

Triskaidekaphobia, schmriskaidekaphobia.  It may not bode well for Warren the 13th, but Squinks, today, on a decidedly lucky Friday the thirteenth (tempting fate, my paraskevidekatriaphobic friends), you get some goodies, including an introduction to my new friend, Warren.

 

Warren the 13th - Book 1 

Squinklethoughts

1.   I would be way too terrified to ever enter an ancient, dilapidated house – though why I would be compelled to even approach one is beyond me.  But I really enjoyed walking the corridors alongside Warren as he fulfilled his duties as bellhop, valet, and about six hundred other occupations at his family’s rickety hotel.  If you like places with corners that are dark, dank, dusty, and lit  by “a tarnished chandelier that clung to the ceiling like an insect” (not to mention odd creatures lurking in those dark, dank, dusty corners), then I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy Warren’s ancestral home.  (Twelve generations is enough to consider Warren the 1st an ancestor, right?  I’ll have to look that up.)

2.   About the guests at the Warren Hotel … Well, I use the term “guests” loosely.  The mysteries in The All-Seeing Eye begin right away when a tall, thin figure – the first guest in years, might I add – strides into the lobby.  Warren bows to him, and then … silence.  Crickets.  (No, seriously, there were probably crickets outside the hotel chatting away to one another wondering what on earth would have possessed Paleface to visit the hotel.)  I like stories that introduce mysteries and conflicts right away.  It just makes me feel like I’m getting my money’s worth on the ride.  It doesn’t mean every single story has to be that way, but when I encounter one like this, I really appreciate it.  Plus, it leaves room for my favourite literary phenomenon: mysteries upon mysteries upon mysteries upon … (I know some readers dislike this very thing, so just a heads up.)

3.   Tania Del Rio got me in the feels with this gem: “That was the main reason Warren worked so hard: because he knew his father had worked hard, and his father’s father had worked hard, and his father’s father’s father had worked hard, and so on.”  Truth, right?  I mean, even with the words I’m typing right now, I wonder … would Mom and Dad be proud?

4.   Puzzles, secret codes, and (did I mention) mysteries?  Need I say more?

5.   If you’ve been keeping up with my squinkle journey, then you’ll know by now that I LOVE illustrations and that I scour the middle-grade section of bookstores for my Next Great Read.  The All-Seeing Eye stands apart from many books out there because not only is it a great MG story (that, by the way, I would totally recommend to readers who are MG-at-heart like me), it has some gorgeous two-colour illustrations.  And, you know, I think I like Warren a little more now that I’ve seen him.  I can’t draw to save my life, so I’m always enamoured by those who can.  I tip my hat to Will Staehle.

 

Warren the 13th IG 

6.   Students of mine who stalk me on Instagram are well aware of my love for words, names, and etymology, in general (a linguistics background will do that to a person).  It may seem like a small thing, but I love the names in this book.  Warren, Rupert, Annaconda, Petula, Scalene, Friggs, even Sketchy!  It’s a cornucopia of delightful monikers!

7.   Warren has wanderlust.  (Who wouldn’t if you were stuck doing six thousand jobs in a dingy hotel?)  Kindred spirit.  That is all.

 

Warren the 13th 2  

8.   It’s taken a really long time for the sequel, Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods, to pop up, but wait no longer … well, no longer than March 21.  (That’s not that long, right?)  In the meanwhile, click this.  No, THIS.  Enjoy a short story and some puzzles to tide you over until the pub date of Book 2.

 

Warren the 13th SS 

9.   One last serious note.  I highly regret passing on getting a galley of this book at a previous BEA.  I, as you all know, judge books by their covers.  Why would I not, when so much work goes into them?  Well, I didn’t have a lot of time to thumb through this galley, so I passed up Warren and his friends all because I thought the book would be too scary for my taste.  (Maybe I had just seen the cover of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and was completely influenced.)  So, let this be a lesson kids: Do not pass up on a book without thumbing through it first.  Otherwise, you’ll miss out on getting to know people like Warren with his six million jobs.

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

Tania Del Rio’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Chapters

Will Staehle’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Chapters

 

Thank you, Quirk Books, for sending me a copy of
Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye in exchange for
an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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Bookcation 2016 #8: Star Darlings: The Adventures of Sage, Libby, and Scarlet

17 Mar

Okay, well you know how much I love Disney characters, so it’s no stretch to think that I love Disney books, too. Percy Jackson and The Zodiac Legacy are two of our all-time favourite series, both of which are published by Disney Publishing Worldwide. Now, I’ve got another great series for you to fall in love with: The Star Darlings.

 

Star Darlings - Sage 

I’ve only read the first three books of what will be, I think (though I wish for more), a 12-book series, but I’m hooked. Think about it: not everyone is let in, so it is a rather big deal to be accepted to Starling Academy, a prestigious school for those wishing to become Star Darlings – wish granters – to people on Wishworld (aka Earth). Each Star Darling has her own unique personality, strengths, and even colour (just look at the book covers !). The cover art of each of the books alone is enough to get you hooked. The images and colour combinations are simply gorgeous and utterly mesmerizing.

 

Star Darlings - Wisher's Guide to Starland 

The first book, Sage and the Journey to Wishworld, introduces us to Star Academy and the Star Darlings. It’s everything you’d enjoy in a series starter: backstory, introductions, and lots of adventure. Sage is a great character who is flawed enough to be realistic but still quite likable. You’ll really enjoy discovering all about Ahmet Zappa and Shana Muldoon Zappa’s imaginative world full of Holo-Books and Star Transmitters (among other things). The follow-up, Libby and the Class Election, is just as sweet and charming as the first. Libby loves to say “yes” to people, but she needs to learn to think more of her own needs and stand up for herself, too. Nowhere does she learn this lesson more than down on Wishworld during her mission. In Scarlet Discovers True Strength, you’ll meet another Star Darling who is very unlike Sage and Libby. Scarlet is manipulative and often seeks revenge on those who displease her. Through her journey to Wishworld, she learns a valuable lesson on how to best help others.

 

Star Darlings - Group 

All three titles are in our library now, and I’m waiting to get my hands on the next three (Leona’s Unlucky Mission, Vega and the Fashion Designer, and Cassie Comes Through), which were published earlier this year. While we’re waiting, let me point you to the direction of Disney’s official Star Darlings site, Facebook page, and Instagram account. I’m sure you’ll find lots of images, news bits, and videos to keep you busy throughout the March Break. Let me know who your favourite Star Darlings are!

Bookcation 2016 #5: The G-Man Super Journals: Awesome Origins and Heroes Rising

16 Mar

Okay, so this one is way far off into the future … so far off that most of you won’t even be in my classes anymore by the time this title pubs. But it’s part of Bookcation because I’m excited to read it. And I know how much you all enjoyed the first installation, The G-Man Super Journal: Awesome Origins, so I want to remind you to read that one first to prepare yourself for Heroes Rising.

 

G-Man Super Journal - Awesome Origins

 

Awesome Origins: Michael G has to keep a journal for school, so what better topic to write about than his ambition of having superpowers and joining the Avengers (no, I’m kidding … I meant, well, the superheroes in his city). And so a wonderful tale of hopes and dreams, triumphs and setbacks, and general LOL thoughts about life and learning to fly is born. Most of you have already read this. For those who haven’t, what are you waiting for? Check this title out now, and let me know how you liked it.

 

G-Man Super Journal - Heroes Rising

 

Heroes Rising: This follow-up promises to have even bigger and better adventures (and musings) than the first. Mikey and his friends encounter monsters from myths, prophecies from ancient times, and a wise wizard … all while trying not to die from exhaustion thanks to superhero training. Do you need more information than that? Sadly, it is a very long wait until Book 2’s birthday, but I have no doubt it’ll be worth it. And if I do get an ARC of this, well, mwahahaha … guess I’ll just have to leave tantalizing tidbits for you until October.

Oh, and if you just can’t get enough of G-Man, check out this really cool collection of webcomics from the man, himself, Chris Giarrusso. He posts a brand-new G-Man comic strip every Tuesday, which are just the bee’s knees.

Mechanica (Betsy Cornwell)

28 Jan

Happy 2016, Squinks! I can’t wait to hear about all the lovely books you read over the past month. Let me get you started with Betsy Cornwell’s Mechanica

 

Mechanica 

I need a second book! This story was just not enough … I want to know more! Mechanica will appeal to many readers, especially fairy-tale lovers like me. Now, hang on. I know some of you are not into retellings, which may be why you will pass up this book, but let me tell you why this version of “Cinderella” works.

Squinklethoughts1.  I like happy endings. I like dénouements that tie loose ends tightly to lead into satisfying conclusions. I like knowing that Murdoch, Sherlock, and Sherlock are (usually) going to solve their cases by the time the episode is over and that a happily-ever-after ending awaits me. I feel free. I can enjoy unfettered catharsis until I get to the end of the ride, knowing that everything will be okay. I knew that unless this “Cinderella” was faithful to the Perrault or Grimm publications, I would find a happy resolution, so I had no hesitation filling up my coffee mug and picking up Mechanica.

2.  I love strong female characters, and Nicolette Lampton is just that. But she’s not as unrealistic as some of her contemporaries – though she is just as unique and unlikely as they are. Instead of wielding swords and other weaponry, she uses her skills at inventing and innovating to improve not only her life but those of people around her. She is kind and empathetic, worrying about how her words affect others, and despite her disdain for doing the biddings of the Steps, she does her job with sincerity anyway. I think what I really loved most about Nicolette is her loyalty to Mr. Candery, her family’s erstwhile servant and friend. Her devastation at being separated from him shows me the very best of both her character and the human condition.

3.  You’ll enjoy the banter between Caro and Fin. You’ll love, even more, the air of mystery that surrounds their characters, especially considering they take to Nicolette quite quickly. The word “soupçon” came to mind while I was reading their first few meetings.

4.  My favourite character in the entire book is Jules, the loyal mechanical horse built by Nicolette’s mother and treasured by Nicolette herself. He ranks up there for me, along with the likes of other noble animals in literature like Charlotte, Stuart Little, and Hedwig.

5.  Okay, one thing I’m still not quite sure of, in terms of how I feel, is the ending. Remember when I said I like happy endings? Well, there is a happy ending here, but it didn’t quite sweep me off my feet. I guess it’s because I had assumed this would be the only book, so I really wanted lilies to fall from the sky. However, the ending is so different and unexpected that I have to applaud Cornwell for completely shocking me with it. It’s a bold choice, and I know many will agree with it, even if it’s not my jolt of java.

6.  If there were no sequel to Mechanica, I’d still be okay with the novel, and I do highly recommend it. The story is intriguing, the prose is beautiful, and the characters are endearing (well, except for the Steps).  Find a rather short, but delightful, excerpt to read online here to get you started on the adventure.

7.  But I really, really hope there is a follow-up because Cornwell’s reimagined world is a place I’d love to visit again.

8.  ** Update AFTER I had typed up the original review: Click here for some awesome Mechanica news! **

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

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

Betsy Cornwell’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
Goodreads | Chapters

Thank you, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for sending me a copy of Mechanica in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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.

 

George 

Squinklethoughts

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.

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