Tag Archives: 2018

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
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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.

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

My So-Called Bollywood Life (Nisha Sharma)

19 Sep

I had a feeling, as soon as I read the synopsis for the book, that I was going to love My So-Called Bollywood Life, and I’m happy to be right.  I half hope that this will be made into a movie – but only half hope because as much as I’d like to see Winnie Mehta’s life played out on screen, I also don’t want to risk ruining a great narrative along the way.

 

My So-Called Bollywood Life Squinklethoughts

1.  I love Nisha Sharma’s voice and writing style.  There’s so much wit (and snark!) in all the characters’ words.  Even in just describing Winnie herself, Sharma has so many funny, quotable lines to make the reading experience pleasurable.  As someone who has never really not code-switched in everyday communication, I not only appreciate but also enjoy and welcome all of the characters’ flips among English, Hindi, and Punjabi.  I really would have loved a glossary at the back of the book (I’ve only seen the ARC and eARC, so I’m not sure if the final copy has one) alongside the list of movies Winnie mentions throughout the novel.

2.  In recent years, the call for stories (in novels and movies, especially) with diverse characters has grown louder.  Of course, it only makes sense that narratives highlighting the experiences of characters from different ethnic backgrounds should be readily available, even prevalent, in our modern global society.  However, I also believe that any story – whether featuring diverse characters or not – should, above all, be well told and authentic.  One of the reasons I really enjoyed this story is the way Sharma doesn’t force Indian/American-Indian culture down the reader’s throat (Eye?  This idiom got away from me …).  Winnie’s life (and, therefore, this story) is intrinsically entrenched in the culture of her family, but not everything is about being Indian.  She’s deeply stressed by her family’s pandit’s prophecy about her love life, but she’s also worried about whether she has enough worthwhile entries on her university application to give her a fighting chance to attend the school of her dreams.  In this way, Sharma encourages her readers to learn and appreciate the idiosyncrasies of our ethnicities while reminding us that we belong to more than one culture/subculture.  Our everyday experiences reflect the fact that we are so much  more than just Indian/Italian/ Indonesian/Iranian, etc.; we are also students/bookworms/film buffs/artists/athletes, etc.  Sharma gets this so right in the story.  Winnie can simultaneously worry about organizing a student film festival and finding a nice lengha to wear to prom.  Neither action defines her, but they both contribute to who she is.  THIS is something that will come up in my lessons when I use the book in my lessons.

3.  On a less wordy note, Sharma’s characters are endearing and interesting.  Bridget is a great sidekick, Dev is charming and enigmatic, Pandit Ohmi is adorably funny, and Winnie’s grandmother is a tough-but-sweet cookie.  Sharma took care to create characters with unique quirks that enhance the plot in their own ways.  If I had to write a story, I wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to make characters’ voices authentic and different from one another’s, but I can definitely spot an author who can masterfully do so.  I wish I could meet Winnie, and that’s a testament to how real of a person she became to me as I read the novel … as well as a testament to Sharma’s narrative prowess.

4.  Teachers/parents: There are many reasons why this title should be added to your shelves.  It can be because it’s a book with diverse characters in it, or because it’s a novel that has tons of allusions to various Bollywood films, or something else completely.  Point #2 includes many reasons for why My So-Called Bollywood Life has been added to my curriculum this term.  Ultimately, I found this title to have a lot of heart, and I think a lot of my students will love it, too.

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

Nisha Sharma’s Online Corners
Website | Pinterest | Twitter | Instagram | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Crown Books for Young Readers and Penguin Random House, for sending me a copy of My So-Called Bollywood Life 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
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Kass Reich’s Online Corners
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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.

The Hazel Wood (Melissa Albert)

14 Sep

I knew, entering this novel, that I was in for a wacky fairy-tale-esque ride, but I wasn’t adequately prepared for the adventures that I encountered … many of which happened even before I entered the Hazel Wood.

 

Hazel Wood Squinklethoughts

1.  I received a late ARC of this title, so I had already seen finished copies at bookstores.  I was so pleased that the ARC included the gorgeous cover of the final version because it’s breathtaking!  The gold embossed figures against a black backdrop scream elegance and intrigue at the same time.  I spent a good while trying to figure out how each image – a comb, a dagger, torn pages, to name a few – might fit into the story.  Just from the cover alone, I knew this would make an excellent lesson for my students.

2.  I don’t know if this story can fit seamlessly into any one genre.  On the one hand, it’s definitely meant for YA audiences because some of the scenes are too mature for my youngsters.  On the other hand, anyone who loves fairy tales will enjoy the allusions in this story, regardless of the age of the reader.  The noir-ish feel of this story is particularly alluring.

3.  So what’s The Hazel Wood got that makes it a worthwhile read?

  • Unpredictable plot … Sure, you could slap various scenes against a plot graph and see the overall arc, but I would never, in a million years, have seen most of what transpired coming.  There are surprises, left and right, by way of betrayals, unexpected enemies, unlikely alliances, sheep in wolves’ clothing, … all of which propel the story to its final destination.

  • Interesting characters … The MC, Alice, is quite likeable.  She’s a little self-deprecating, but not annoyingly so.  Because she discovers truths about her life at the same time as the reader does, we can feel very much as if we’re part of her journey.  I also really like her relationship with her mom.  Oh, and Alice Proserpine – great name.

  • Mini side stories … It’s almost like the various tales of Beedle the Bard are strewn throughout the narrative.  Some side stories reveal info pertinent to Alice’s plotline, and others are just colourful tapestries that add to the noir-ness of the book.

4.  If you’re looking for a unique take on well-known fairy-tale creatures, villains, heroines, and overall fantasy feel, you’ll definitely enjoy Albert’s The Hazel Wood.  The author does a great job building her world and fleshing out her characters.  Even if this kind of story is not your thing, you’ll still find enough mysteries that you’ll want to keep reading to see which are solved at the end.

5.  Teachers/parents: There are some scenes (mostly in dialogue, but also in situation, including references to intimate relations) that may be too mature for some kids in elementary school.  Some of the actions in the story, which revolve around hurting/killing people might also be too scary or violent for younger readers.  Writer’s Craft teachers will find this novel to be a rich source of potential lessons and activities.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Melissa Albert’s Online Corners
Website | Twitter | Instagram | Chapters/Indigo

 

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

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