Tag Archives: mg

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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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.

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.

The Blackthorn Key #3: The Assassin’s Curse (Kevin Sands)

12 Sep

I love that so far, for the last three years, I’ve had a literary adventure to look forward to in September.  It almost makes going back to our regularly scheduled school program bearable.  Almost.  I’m just glad there’s another Blackthorn Key book.

 

Blackthorn Key - Assassin's Curse

Squinklethoughts

1.  The original Blackthorn Key series was absolutely fantastic.  I got a copy of it during the summer of 2015, and I made it the book for our novel-study unit a few weeks later.  I couldn’t put it down, and I’m glad that Kevin Sands has kept up the series.

2.  Christopher and Tom’s friendship is one for the books (hehe).  They get along so well, but more than that, you can tell that they have genuine respect for one another.  Christopher is, by now, known for getting himself into scrapes – completely by chance, of course – and solving riddles to get out of them.  But Tom is equally important in this adventure, and I’m glad that this is addressed in the opening pages, for while Christopher has saved London numerous times, his best friend has saved him just as often.  It’s a really great friendship that I love to read about.

3.  The addition of Sally (and Bridget) to the fold is aces.  Some of my kids weren’t too thrilled about it at first, but they eventually came round to appreciating Sally’s role with the boys.  Indeed, she does a great job again in this story where she handles her own as the Lady Grace.

4.  Kevin Sands is funny.  The banter among the trio is funny and witty – totally my type of humour.  Christopher is always thinking up crazy schemes, and Tom is one step ahead of him.  Well, he just knows his best friend well.  Even though he never stops Christopher from doing things, like turning famous paintings in the Louvre upside down, he’s comfortable enough to give Christopher a piece of his mind.  And Sally is great at keeping the peace between the two of them when things get too hot to handle.

 

Blackthorn Key - Assassins Curse - Quote

 

5.  I love that this book takes the kids to Paris.  My students were so pleased to be able to translate the various French phrases before Sands gives their English translations.  In fact, I would have liked more of this in the story.  Maybe it’s because we all grew up with French classes every day, but I thought readers could’ve definitely handled the challenge of figuring out les expressions françaises.  I mean, it’s like a code in itself, trying to understand another language, eh?

6.  I’m so happy that Master Benedict is everywhere in this book, just as he is in all the other books.  I think his conversations with Christopher may be my favourite parts of the entire series.  Kids need to know – everyone needs to know – that the people we love leave indelible prints on our hearts.  I just love that Sands explores this.

7.  I think I like this book more than the second one, Mark of the Plague.  Not quite sure why.  It might be that the codes and puzzles feel harder this time round, or that it’s set in Paris, or that the kids are surrounded by royalty, or that the storyline is full of Knights Templar allusions … I just loved it all.  I couldn’t put it down.

8.  I hope that Sands stays true to his pattern and that a fourth book will be due next September.  Actually, I hope another story comes out sooner because boy, the cliffhanger at the end!.  But I’ll be happy as long as this series continues for many more books to come.  It really is that great.

 

5 Squinkles

 

Kevin Sands’ Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Simon and Schuster Canada, for sending me a copy of The Blackthorn Key: The Assassin’s Curse in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

 

Karma Khullar’s Mustache (Kristi Wientge)

15 Aug

Over the years, the stories that have become the most borrowed and requested by my students are those that tackle universal issues with idiosyncratic flairs.  This is exactly the strength of Karma Khullar’s Mustache by Kristi Wientge, and I have no hesitation recommending it to you, Squinks!

 

Karma Khullar's Mustache

Squinklethoughts

1.  At the heart of this novel is a girl who isn’t looking to shine – just fit in.  Isn’t that how everyone feels when they’re starting a new school?  It’s hard enough changing from being the kings and queens of elementary school to becoming the guppies of middle school, but over the summer, poor Karma discovers SEVENTEEN little hairs above her lip … which is basically the end of the world.  I like that Wientge understands how big of a deal this is for some people.

2.  Karma’s moustache is the impetus for a lot of her troubles, not the least of which is earning the nickname “’Stache Attack”, but there are far worse obstacles for Karma to overcome.  The worst of it is that her best friend no longer seems to be her best friend.  I know what it’s like to lose a friend for no reason at all (at least no reason that I could foresee or understand).  Karma and Kate have been friends for years, and all of a sudden, Kate’s interests are different from Karma’s.  It was really heartbreaking that Karma was in a state of limbo.  Should she even care that Kate doesn’t like her anymore?  And yet, it’s so hard not to care about things like that.

3.  And then Lacy moves in across the street from Kate, and all of Karma’s fears deepen.  How can she compete with the girl who seems to be so well put together, while she can’t even figure out how to get rid of 17 stinkin’ strands of hair?

4.  That scene in the lunchroom where Karma tries to enjoy her tiffin full of delicious dal and chapati had me in tears.  Wientge illustrates a scene right out of my own childhood where I was made fun of for bringing squid and rice for lunch – one of my absolute favourite dishes, which I suddenly had no appetite for after being taunted by my grade-2 classmates.  Have a tissue on hand when you get to this part.

5.  Karma’s inner monologue reminds me a lot of Lizzie McGuire.  I never watched the original series, though I did see the movie.  I like how Karma is, for the most part, realistic about life, but I also enjoyed reading bits and pieces of her overdramatic thoughts about school, people, and her moustache.  I’m sure I felt the same way when I was younger.

6.  I liked learning about Sikhism and some of the traditional foods that Karma and her Indian-American family eat.  As a child of a mixed-race marriage, Karma has the added challenge of melding two traditions together.  I would have liked a bit more of that.  Karma complains about how her mom’s blonde hair would probably not be so noticeable over her upper lip, and there are a few conversations between her parents that hint at differences in upbringing, but I wanted a bit more.  Wientge sort of gets away with not going into too much detail when Karma admits that she only goes to church and temple a few times a year.  I don’t think the lack of detail about the two religions or the two cultures took away from the story, but I think the details could’ve added to it.

7.  I read this book very quickly because I was highly invested in Karma’s journey.  I think that’s what makes this a great story.  I was as sad as she was when those awkward moments with Kate happen; I was as humiliated as she was when the kids make fun of her lunch; I was as indignant (but helpless) as she was when she is blamed for something she didn’t do.  I really wanted a happy ending for her.

8.  Wientge combines Karma’s specific situation with universal problems, which will make Karma Khullar’s Mustache appealing to all readers.  I would definitely pick up the sequel if there were to be one.

 

4.5 Squinkles  

Kristi Wientge’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Chapters/Indigo

Thank you, Simon and Schuster Canada, for sending me a copy of Karma Khullar’s Mustache in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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