Tag Archives: mg

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.

The Nocturnals #4: The Hidden Kingdom (Tracey Hecht and Sarah Fieber)

10 Sep

Oof … Apologies for all the “Temporary Posts” emails!  Since WLW doesn’t do updates or support anymore, I can’t figure out how to do some things.  It’s all a bit trial-and-error for me, Squinks!

Anyhoo, the Nocturnal Brigade is back in their fourth adventure, and it’s the best one yet!  Tobin (a pangolin), Bismark (a sugar glider), and Dawn (a fox) have to find a way to save themselves and their night-time neighbours from a drought that has plagued them all.

 

Nocturnals 4 Squinklethoughts

1.  Okay, first things first, this series taught me that there is even an animal called a sugar glider.  Yup … had no idea it existed until now.  I love that a whole menagerie of animals are found in these books, and I love it even more that many of them work together (for good and for bad!) to accomplish their tasks.  Stories are always fun when you’ve got a bunch of different characters join forces for a common goal, and this tale is no exception.

2.  Bismark is ever charming, as he was in the first three books.  He is incorrigible in his flirting with Dawn, but he genuinely cares for her and the rest of his friends.  His anecdotes and bravado get wilder (and funnier) as the story progresses, which add some levity to the brigade’s troubles.  Tobin is quite funny, too, especially when he’s constantly blamed for the strange odours and squeaky noises around him.  My students found these bits particularly funny.  All in all, the characters drive this series just as much as the plot lines do, which is a great reason for the success of these stories.

 

Nocturnals 4 2

 

3.  One of the best things about The Nocturnals series is the cast of characters that Hecht and Fieber have assembled.  Whether they’re part of the Nocturnal Brigade or playing a supporting role, the animals are witty, unique, and memorable.

4.  Teachers/parents: There are so many animals in this book and in the series that ways to incorporate them into lessons and classes just kept popping into my head as I was reading.  But beyond its potential use in the classroom, anyone who loves animals or enjoys reading stories with animals in them would definitely enjoy this series.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Tracey Hecht and Sarah Fieber’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Fabled Films Press, for sending me a copy of The Nocturnals: The Hidden Kingdom in exchange for an honest review.  All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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