Tag Archives: 2017

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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That Inevitable Victorian Thing (E.K. Johnston)

3 Oct

Squinks, you really need to read this if you, like me, love stories with British royalty; strong, female friendships; and Canada.  This is my first E.K. Johnston title, and I’m so glad I picked it up!

 

That Inevitable Victorian Thing

Squinklethoughts

1.  Above all else, I feel like this story is a love letter to Canada.  The setting is Toronto and the Muskoka Region (a few hours north of the city), but in a reimagined world where Canada is just one of many colonies of a British Empire that never fell.  There are so many little nods to real life, including (my favourite) a reference to my beloved Leafs tying things up in the third only to lose, spectacularly, dramatically, and not all that surprisingly in overtime.  My husband laughed when I read this part out loud.  Other allusions, like the note from the Minister of Transportation reminding officers to prepare for Friday exoduses from the city to cottage country once warmer weather begins, really made the story more enjoyable than it already was.  You’d think it’s a small thing, but it really adds to the entertainment value of a story when the readers recognize bits and pieces from real life.

 

That Inevitable Victorian Thing 3

 

2.  Despite the title, the expectations of Victorian England, as they are manoeuvred by the main characters, are just plot devices.  Yes, there is British imperialism, but that is the backdrop of the book, not a commentary on why or when or how imperialism might be okay.  In fact, Johnston doesn’t shy away from mentioning all the failings and trappings of history’s darker moments, but it’s a different world that plays with the answers to what-if questions.  I chose to read this book because I was interested in the characters and what they could do; I didn’t comb through every reference to other cultures and traditions mentioned in the story only to analyze why this culture is mentioned and not that, or why this aspect of Victorian England is highlighted and not that.  And, truth be told, I read quickly a lot of the “history” stuff.  This book is all about the characters for me.

3.  Let’s talk about those characters.  There are three fun and feisty women in this story, and I love how Johnston develops them.  I particularly like the fact that Margaret and Helena recognize that socialite Elizabeth has more to her than what the paparazzi depict.  Elizabeth is genuinely kind and incredibly knowledgeable of how her world works, using that knowledge to her advantage.  I also like that Helena, who is introduced as more of a homebody than anything else and who has essentially plotted out her path in life, discovers other interests that draw her out of her shell.  She isn’t afraid to stand alone in the corner, waiting for the debutant ball to begin.  It’s great that August, her childhood friend, appreciates that Helena had always been happy with herself.  And Margaret … I think I like her best of all.  I love the push and pull of wanting to do things your own way while knowing you simply cannot.  That kind of conflict has always been one of the more interesting ones for me.  Commoners often think that royalty have it great, but every one has battles no one else can fathom.  Margaret is kind and dutiful, both to herself and to her country, and I think many people will fall in love with her.

4.  I had absolutely no problem with a world in the future that relies on –bots and –grams and all the good stuff that come from advanced technology while also celebrating debutant balls, sending and receiving formal invitations, and … employing servants in households.  I can see how others might be offended with the concept of servants still in use in the future, but there are a few times in the novel that address this and that I think Johnston got spot on.  We can always honour someone’s professional pride regardless of the job that person chooses.  Fanny is an amazingly loyal companion to Helena, and Hiram and his sisters make the Callaghan household run smoothly.  Servants though they may be, they are integral to the lives of those they serve.  (If only this concept had been swallowed by the patricians in Ancient Rome, the Conflict of the Orders may never have happened.  But that’s another reimagined world …)

 

That Inevitable Victorian Thing 2

 

5.  I love that Margaret is so sure of her duties and responsibilities and restrictions.  I love that she knows why she can’t do something even if she really wants to.  I love that she’s innately kind and that she doesn’t want to get in the way of others who have found paths that are undeniably less complicated than hers.  We forget, sometimes, that not everyone is brought up in a family (or society) that encourages children to be what they want, marry whomever they want, or even think what they want.  It’s a great notion that we take for granted in our modern world, but we should remember that it’s not universal.  I would have loved to learn more about Margaret.  She was my favourite of the three.

6.  August is so kind and loyal.  Poor guy is in such a quagmire throughout the story.  I can only imagine how difficult it must be for him to juggle the problems at work, his parents’ confidence and trust in him, and his own expectations of being a good husband.  What a good and flawed guy.

7.  Ms. Johnston, can we please, please, have another book?  I fell in love with the three girls and August, and I’m so curious to know what life is like for them after the summer is over.  But seriously, Squinks … It’s been ages since I finished reading this book, and I’m still wondering how the rest of the summer goes for Margaret, Helena, August, and Elizabeth.  There is still so much story to tell!  I really do hope Johnston writes a sequel.

 

5 Squinkles

 

E.K. Johnston’s Online Corners
Website | Twitter | Tumblr | Instagram | Indigo/Chapters

 

Thank you, Penguin Random House Canada and Dutton Books, for sending me a copy of That Inevitable Victorian Thing in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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.

A Map for Wrecked Girls (Jessica Taylor)

26 Sep

The best story backdrops are the ones that rip the main characters away from their natural habitats and pluck them into completely unknown worlds.  In Jessica Taylor’s A Map for Wrecked Girls, you’re in for a treat: there are TWO main characters (and a boy) stuck on a deserted island.  Only good things can come from this.

 

Map for Wrecked Girls

Squinklethoughts

1.  This story is about two sisters, and right there is the reason I wanted to read this.  Henri and Emma (great names!) have been as close as close can be.  They’re sisters and best friends and confidantes; they’re two halves of the same whole.  But things can’t always stay the way they are.  High school – and boys – get in the way.  Maybe it’s because I have sisters of my own that I was so compelled to find out how they get through the story with the chasm between them that seems all too permanent.  Can they even find their way back to each other?

2.  More than what would happen to the girls on the island, I wondered what would happen to the girls’ relationship.  This is what drives the book.  I know some people might think that it’s too contrived to have them maroon on an island, eke out desperate means of surviving desperate times, and hope that somehow their mitigating circumstances will eventually lead them to reconciliation.  In truth, I found the island survival part secondary to Emma and Henri surviving one another.  When you’ve spent your entire life dependent on another person, how do you now live feet away but worlds apart?

 

Map for Wrecked Girls 2

 

3.  I’m glad that Taylor doesn’t reveal the root of the girls’ problems until towards the end.  It gives readers a chance to get into Emma’s shoes (sandals?) through her narration.  I feel bad for what she did to Henri even though I didn’t even know what it was until the last few chapters.  But because Emma is a completely reliable narrator, I knew that it must have been really bad.  Imagine that, and attribute it to Taylor’s writing.  I had all these wild theories running around in my head about what Emma could have possibly done, but even without knowing it, I felt like Henri’s anger towards her was completely justified because Taylor writes Emma’s thoughts so well.

4.  Alex is so good.  So flawed, so human, so intriguing.  He treats the girls really well, especially considering he’s only known them for a few hours.  It must be quite difficult to deal with trying to thrive on an island while wracked with guilt for his cousin.  The best part about Alex is that he seems to really care about Emma, and he sees Henri for who she really is.  I wish that there had been more to the story just because I wanted to read about Alex more.  I know the story revolves, primarily, around Emma and Henri’s sistership, but Taylor sows the seeds for a great story revolving around Alex.

5.  Actually, I feel like the three characters – Emma, Henri, and Alex – have so many more stories to tell.  The novel is told from Emma’s perspective, but how great would it be to read Henri’s point of view of the whole mess as well?  I want more of these three!  And I want more of Jesse, the girls’ neighbour and long-time friend, who seems to be a beacon of stability in the girls’ lives.

6.  I feel really, really bad for Gavin.  Some people won’t agree.  But I think that sometimes, we use age as a fair-weather weapon to brandish about when it suits us, sheathing it only when doing so works in our favour.  There are so many other factors to consider.

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

Jessica Taylor’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Penguin Random House Canada and Dial Books, for sending me a copy of A Map for Wrecked Girls in exchange for an honest review.

 

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.

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