Tag Archives: family

Just Like Jackie (Lindsey Stoddard)

30 Apr

Fair warning, Squinks: This story will hit you in the feels.  Multiple times.  Definitely pick up Just Like Jackie for your next read.

 

Just Like Jackie Squinklethoughts

1.  It’s not that I had low expectations of this book, but as an avid MG readers, I generally have a good sense of how an MG reading session is going to go.  It’s one of the great comforts of this genre that readers should expect some comedy, some angst, some magic (maybe), and a lot of heart.  Just Like Jackie has all of these, which makes for an excellent reading experience.

2.  First off, I was so mad for the first five or six chapters.  Everything Robbie feels in the opening pages, I’ve felt, too.  The injustice!  The utter cruelty of Alex and Robbie’s teachers/principal!  I can’t believe she was made to return to school even after everything that happens in the opening pages.  That would so not fly in today’s world.  I was seething at some points that I seriously considered giving up the story and throwing the book across the room, just so I wouldn’t be mad.  But I’m glad I didn’t, and if you feel this way after the first few chapters, too, trust me … keep reading.

3.  I firmly believe that for some people, all it takes is one teacher to believe in you for you to believe in yourself.  Of course, you can have many supportive teachers in your life, but how early you’re lucky enough to find the first can make all the difference in your entire academic career.  With the way things are going in Robbie’s life, she’s incredibly fortunate that her school counsellor, Ms. Gloria, has the patience and tenacity to keep trying to help her and the other kids.  I’m willing to bet that Robbie, Alex, and the other kids in the group will never forget Ms. Gloria.  And she really saves the reading experience for me.

4.  It’s so hard to watch someone’s memories slip away.  I think it’s much harder to experience than simply seeing someone grow weak with age because you can’t really see memories failing.  But you can certainly feel it, and it brings incredible sadness for everyone who’s friends with the person affected by it.  Robbie is sweet and caring, and every time her heart breaks over her grandpa, my heart twinged with sadness, too.  What a situation to have to deal with at such a young age!

 

Just Like Jackie 2

 

5.  I’d have loved to have learned more about Robbie’s family background, but I suppose it’s not necessary.  However, considering the family seems to have had so much drama, I was really looking forward to reading more about the past.

6.  I’m so glad Robbie has friends like Derek and Harold to get her through her days.  They’re incredibly loyal, treating Robbie as if she were family, which makes the ending more optimistic than it might have been.

7.  Teachers/parents: There are two things I particularly enjoyed about this story.  First, Harold has a husband, and the two adopt a baby.  It’s not a major plot point in the story, but I’m glad, all the same, that it exists, especially considering Robbie has to deal with issues surrounding her grandpa having darker skin colour than her.  I liked that the obstacles stemming from these are explored, but that neither racism nor homophobia overpowers the other troubles Robbie faces, namely her grandpa’s failing memory and the school bully.  Second, Stoddard’s writing is so fluid that I lost myself in the authenticity of Robbie’s voice.  Her emotions are so real and heart wrenching that I found myself, on multiple occasions, tearing up on the subway and streetcar from everything Robbie has to deal with.  If you’re thinking of including Just Like Jackie on your bookshelves or reading list, you might want to keep this in mind when considering your readers.  This story affected me more than I anticipated, and it’s a great one for all readers to experience.

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

Lindsey Stoddard’s Online Corners
Website | Twitter | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Harper Collins, for sending me a copy of Just Like Jackie in exchange for an honest review.  All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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Never That Far (Carol Lynch Williams)

5 Apr

Have you ever lost someone that you never imagined losing?  Did you worry that the pain would never go away?  Never That Far by Carol Lynch Williams is a sweet story about a girl who loses her best friend but cannot lose herself in her grief, for she’s got a very important mission to accomplish.

 

Squinklethoughts

1.  What drew me to this story was the very heart of the plot: Libby’s grandfather dies, and her world is turned upside down.  I was super close to my own grandpa, and even though he didn’t die suddenly, we only had a couple of weeks from the time he got sick to the time we had to say goodbye.  I knew instantly that I wanted to read Libby’s journey of grief.  I think others who have experienced the profound loss of a beloved family member will appreciate this story, and even if you haven’t, you’ll still take away so much from Libby’s narrative, especially how she tries to honour her grandfather and the rest of her family.

2.  The characters in Never That Far are so different from one another that it’s a wonder Libby manages to juggle them all in her life.  Her dad must be a nice-enough guy, but in his grief, he becomes so withdrawn from his daughter and the world around him that I wonder if that isn’t how he was even before his dad died.  Bobby is refreshing as someone who doesn’t easily dismiss Libby’s “crazy” idea that her grandfather visits her at night.  I also like how he seems to really care for her, even though his sister, Martha, isn’t on the same page.  There’s something to be said about people who defy their parents’ orders just to help out a friend.  Not that I’m condoning disobeying your parents, Squinks … just that it works out in this novel.  Preacher Burls is not my favourite character at all, even as the story progresses and she shows a lot of good will towards Libby.  But that’s my own thing.  Maybe others will completely understand where she’s coming from.

3.  I like that Williams chose to include colloquialisms and spellings that reflect Southern American speech.  It really added something unique to the story for me.  Since I’m not from Florida where the story is set (or even from the surrounding areas), I really felt transported to Libby’s family’s groves whenever I read the dialogue or Libby’s thoughts.

4.  The idea of dead people revisiting the living is, I know, a controversial one.  Never mind all the religious beliefs that can be subscribed to (or rejected) by this idea, just the logical and emotional aspects of it are enough to make the premise a difficult one to grasp for many readers.  My suggestion is that you read this novel with an open mind and an open heart, remembering that in the same way we don’t all find joy in the same things, we all deal with sadness in different ways.  I like how Williams gives us an idea of how some people might deal with a loss.  It might not happen the same way with me, but I can appreciate Libby’s story all the same.

5.  **POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT** … Teachers/parents, I know that some people think that death and coping with loss might be too mature a topic for middle-graders to deal with.  I think otherwise, and I’d like to offer you my humble opinion: the sooner that children read about this very real and painful part of life, the better it will be for them to start grasping its inevitability.  Someone somewhere may very well be saved (or, at least, his/her pain will be lessened) by knowing that someone else, albeit a fictional character, has endured the same sorrow and come out relatively unscathed.

 

4 squinkles

 

Carol Lynch Williams’ Online Corners
Website | Twitter | Blog | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Shadow Mountain, for sending me a copy of
Never That Far in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Potion Masters #1: The Eternity Elixir (Frank L. Cole)

3 Jan

Squinks, if you want to start the new year off with the right book, I’ve got the perfect one for you: Frank L. Cole’s Potion Masters: The Eternity Elixir.  I guarantee you’ll be able to say you’ve at least read one great book this year.

 

Squinklethoughts

1.  I love practically everything about this book.  But let’s start at the beginning.  The premise is exciting: there is a secret society of potion masters and 12-year-old Gordy Stitser’s mom is one of the best Elixirists around.  That can only spell trouble for Gordy … and it’s the making of a great adventure.  His mom has been training Gordy in the art of potion-making, which is fun enough already, but what I love is the fact that Gordy actually wants to hone his skills.  He actually wants to study.  Isn’t that great?  (Feel free to roll your eyes now.)

2.  Gordy is a great protagonist.  He’s curious and thoughtful and creative and courageous.  He loves to experiment with and without his mom’s permission, but he’s got a lot of respect for both of his parents, which means they have a great relationship.  I think I’m drawn to Gordy because he doesn’t rest on his laurels.  He may have an insanely incredible innate talent at Deciphering and Blind Batching, but he’s eager to continue developing his skills.  I have lots of admiration for that.  Throughout the story, Gordy encounters difficult decisions he has to make, but he uses the right amount of his heart and head to choose his path.  All in all, he’s a very likable protagonist, and one I’m eager to read more about.  I only hope that there are skeletons in his closet that will be revealed in future books because I think Gordy has the makings of a classic character.

3.  And where would main characters be without their loyal sidekicks?  I’m glad that Cole doesn’t leave Gordy to his own potions.  Adilene and Max are good friends who care so much for Gordy that they run to his side (and potential danger) the moment Gordy calls them.  The only criticisms I have of this book are mild ones that I hope will be rectified in future novels.  One, Max is sometimes a little too rash.  I get that he’s excited to help Gordy, but his excitement sometimes leads to trips, spills, and near catastrophes.  I can’t fault him for his loyalty to Gordy, and even his grudging appreciation for Adilene, but sometimes, I wish Gordy would tell him to shush a bit more.  Two, Adilene doesn’t get as much page time as Max, and I’d’ve really loved reading how she might have handled Bawdry’s energy.  And I bet she’d have come up with a better name than “Slim” and “Doll”.  I think Cole could have used her contributions as much as he used Max’s.  Lastly, I found a few too many similarities between this trio and another famous literary trio.  I wonder if maybe in future books Gordy, Adilene, and Max might separate their quirks to solidify themselves as golden in their own right.

 

  

4.  I absolutely understand why parents must not be part of the story in middle-grade stories.  Children have to develop the essential parts of their characters independent of adult, especially parental, influence.  Kids would have much more different adventures if, say, they had to go home every day after school instead of only for summer vacation.  So, I’m glad that Cole seems to have found a sweet spot that allows Gordy’s parents to be part of the action without getting in the way.  In fact, I love the secondary plot involving Gordy’s mom, Wanda, and her sister, Priss.  And I’m very, very curious to discover if Gordy’s dad, Gordon, knows more than he’s revealing … (Wouldn’t that be awesome?)

5.  I love the potions the Elixirists mention and use in this book.  As a textbook-chemistry-loving (i.e. I love learning about compounds and reactions without feeling any inclination to concoct my own, or participate in and write up any lab reports) and etymologically passionate (i.e. I do have a degree in and love for linguistics) nerd, Cole’s potions speak to me in a fierce way.  There’s the Disfarcar Gel, Goilicanje Juice, and Oighear Ointment, to name a few.  I’m sure many people will learn a little bit about a lot of languages from the compendium in this book.  Speaking of which … there’s a glossary!  I love, love, love maps and glossaries, and the inclusion of a list at the end of the story was like a little gift I devoured at the end.  I also love that the Tranquility Swathe originated in Canada.  That’s just so Canadian.

6.  This is one of those stories that seems to have been so well plotted even before it was written because every chapter was compelling.  There are tons of action scenes, but enough downtime in between, to flesh out the characters and the rising action.  I read the whole thing really quickly – as in I picked up where I left off at the end of Chapter 18 (really good, btw), and in no time at all, I was finished Chapter 38 (even better).  I hope we don’t have to wait too long for the follow up.  But until then, check out the trailer for the first book below:

 

 

7.  Teachers/parents, Potion Masters: The Eternity Elixir was one of the last books I read in 2017, and it’s the first one I’ll champion in 2018.  It’s a great story for boys and girls alike, seasoned and struggling readers alike, and those who love and are lukewarm to fantasy alike.  Readers will encounter fast-paced adventure, inspiring creativity, true friendships, complicated family matters, and a lot of fun.  I’ll be picking up this title for my school library, so I will probably create a reading-comprehension handout.  Feel free to check back here in a few weeks to see if I do!

 

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 Eternity Elixir in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Student Review: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy (Karen Foxlee)

10 Nov

This fantasy story is mysterious and breathtaking.  Karen Foxlee has made a very clever and adventurous story that will impress you and touch your heart.

 

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy  

This story is about two main characters who have very different personalities.  Ophelia is just a normal girl who feels like she is not brave at all.  She has a sister and a dad, but her mom has passed away, so she’s very sad.  The Marvelous Boy, whom Ophelia thinks is named David, has been a prisoner for hundreds of years.  Ophelia discovers him locked in a room in the museum where her dad works.  As soon as they meet, they go on a mission: to save the world.

I have several things I like about this book.  One is that the characters are great.  They all have a special role to play in the book.  I like that Ophelia questions everything.  She’s used to believing in things that are logical, but when she meets the Marvelous Boy, she has to try to wrap her head around the stories he tells her.  She seems like a girl I could be friends with.  Another reason I liked this book is there was a lot of action.  Specifically, I liked the idea that this sort-of-scary story happens in a museum.  It seems like a magical place where you don’t think about finding ghosts and villains, but then it makes sense that they’re there.

Foxlee’s writing wasn’t too difficult for me to understand, but it actually felt a little more grown up than typical middle-grade books that my teacher gives me.  I would recommend this book to boys and girls who have a big imagination.  I think adults would enjoy the book, too.  It’s a great story.

Hannah B., grade 6

The Secret of Nightingale Wood (Lucy Strange)

26 Oct

If you like reading stories with strong and sweet heroines, family relationships, and life after a war, I’m sure you’ll love Lucy Strange’s The Secret of Nightingale Wood.

 

Secret of Nightingale Wood Squinklethoughts

1.  It’s been nearly 100 years since the Great War ended, and most of my students AND the people around them are far removed from the effects of the war.  But it’s called the Great War because it’s the first time that so many people from so many lands and across so many fronts have been affected by a mutual event.  There are lots of great stories about soldiers before, during, and after battles, including one we read in French class called Journal d’un soldat.  But some of my favourite stories are about the people at home – mothers, sisters, and friends, awaiting news of their loved ones, and rebuilding their lives upon their loved ones’ return or … permanent leave.  The Secret of Nightingale Wood reminds you of how war often rips apart families.

2.  Henry is a lovely, authentic heroine.  She’s at the great age where she’s stuck between having true independence in her teenage years and enjoying enough freedom to think and feel the way she wants to, regardless of how other people tell her to behave.  She loves her little sister, Piglet, and if I didn’t like Henry for anything else, I’d respect her for that.  What a great older sister to have.

3.  Henry is brave but not reckless.  I would have been too scared to enter the woods, so I applaud her courage in doing so, but she also recognizes when to be on her guard.  She takes calculated risks, including visiting her mother who’s been locked in a room, if need be or if her heart can’t take it any longer.  She is also wracked with guilt that her last conversation with her brother, Robert, was a fight.  I don’t know if this is what makes her push herself to be brave, but she tries really hard to keep her family together once her family seems to be ripped apart.

4.  I like that Henry’s plan towards the end of the story isn’t completely out of this world.  I don’t like endings that employ deus ex machina or have some sort of implausible, neatly tied dénouement, so I like that Henry’s solution isn’t too easy to be believable.

5.  I was a bit annoyed with Nanny Jane.  Her heart seems to be in the right place, but I feel like she bends too easily to forces outside Hope House.  If Henry and Piglet are her primary charges, why would she let others’ opinions sway her from doing her job?

6.  Dr. and Mrs. Hardy – ugh.  Dislike both of them with a sneer.  And Dr. Chilvers, too.  Aren’t the best characters to hate the ones you know smile with duplicity (even though you can’t actually see them smiling)?

7.  Moth is a lovely, bittersweet character.  She’s caring and motherly towards Henry, but sadness and pain just oozes out of her.  I’m glad that she has small bits of beauty in her life.  I think Henry saves Moth just as much as Moth saves Henry.  I can imagine them having a nice, long friendship.

 

Secret of Nightingale Wood 3

 

8.  I let my book fall open on a page, and it happened to be on one where there is a letter set in a different font from the rest of the story.  The final copy of the book may have this letter in a different font than the ARC I read, but the font – Janda Elegant Handwriting or something remarkably similar – has been one of my favourite ones for as long as I can remember.  It’s even the font I use for the header of my blog, which tells you how much I love it.  I guess I knew from the moment I saw that letter in the book that this was going to be a good, heart-tugging story.

9.  Teachers/parents, there are many lessons you can do with this novel.  The biggest one is a discussion on the effects of war and death on an entire family and community.  Right from the beginning, we know that Robert, Henry’s older brother, has died, and with him, bits of their parents have died, too.  We also find out later on about another boy who has died.  The two deaths, though from different causes, rock two families and a community.  This could be a teachable moment in terms of the ripples people make.  Also, there are tons of allusions to classic lit, which would make a great side project.

10.  The Secret of Nightingale Wood is set to pub on October 31.  You definitely want to put this on your bookshelf!  There’s so much heart in this story.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Lucy Strange’s Online Corners
Facebook | Twitter | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Scholastic Canada, for sending me a copy of The Secret of Nightingale Wood in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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