Tag Archives: mg

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.

Alex and Eliza: A Love Story (Melissa de la Cruz)

13 Jul

I haven’t splashed around in the Hamilton craze at all, but Alex and Eliza: A Love Story might just do it for me.

 

 

Alex and Eliza

 Squinklethoughts.png

1.  I love Melissa de la Cruz’s writing style.  It’s as if she were right there in the room with Alex and Eliza, writing down everything they say, recording every blush and secret glance.  It’s not necessarily that she speaks in period language, but there’s an authenticity to her voice that makes you lose yourself in the story rather than in wondering whether the characters are truly talking in 18th-century turns of phrases.  This is the first book I’ve read of de la Cruz’s works, though I did read enough of The Isle of the Lost (Descendants #1) to know that my students would like it, and the first two books of the series are in our school library.  (The third, which has just published, is on its way.)

2.  The setting of this story is 1777 in Albany, New York, which is part of the reason why I was intrigued by it.  I love stories set during times of great tension, and the American Revolution (and subsequent years) has so much tension.  It’s a really great backdrop for the story.

 

Alex and Eliza 2

 

3.  I like that Eliza in this take is neither prudish nor coquettish.  I’ve read essays about her relationship with the General where she’s too easily hooked by him, or she makes Alexander jump through hoops to test him.  De la Cruz’s Eliza is smart, loyal to her family, and completely aware of the constraints of her time.  She doesn’t really play hard to get, but she doesn’t bat her eyelashes unnecessarily at Alexander either.  (At least, I don’t think so.)

4.  You know that I enjoy MG stories than YA, but this particular title can very easily be read by those in elementary and high school alike.  It’s clean enough that teachers and parents don’t have to worry about explaining concepts to children that they may not be ready for.  The great thing about Alex and Eliza, too, is that the romance in it is not one that’s found in other YA stories set in modern times.  Another reason to thank the backdrop of the American Revolution.

5.  I’m the type to care more about a character’s back story than what he or she is doing at the moment.  That being said, I really want to read more of how Alex and Eliza’s marriage and family life work out.  Do they have their own places in society, or do they find adventures as a team?  (Spoiler alert: They both eventually die.  Sorry to break it to ya.)  I’m very excited that de la Cruz will be writing a follow-up called Love & War: An Alex and Eliza Story, due out in the spring of 2018 (OMG, that’s so long from now).

  

4.5Squinkles.png

  

Melissa de la Cruz’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Penguin Random House, for sending me a copy of Alex and Eliza: A Love Story in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

 

Mighty Jack #1 (Ben Hatke)

20 Mar

So, if you like fairytale adaptations like I do, you’ll probably have a really good time with the first book in the Mighty Jack series.

 

Mighty Jack  

Squinklethoughts 1.  I’ve always had an issue with Jack and his magic beanstalk.  How could he have given up his cow for a few measly beans?  This time round, though, Ben Hatke makes Jack a little more mature, a little more kindly, a little less self-centred, and only a little … silly.  Oh, and he’s a little grumpy, but I didn’t mind that because I like talking back to grumpy characters.

2.  I’ve had a few kids of all grades and linguistic abilities read this already, and they’ve all enjoyed it.  The fourth-grader laughed out loud a lot, and the mom of the eighth-grader mentioned to me that he had stayed up late one night just so that he could finish the book.  An ESL student also told me that she really enjoyed it, which speaks to the universality of Hatke’s retelling.

3.  The illustrations in this book are aces.  The panels and page layouts are varied, so the story doesn’t lull, and I particularly enjoyed that there were a lot of things going on in the gutters.

4.  This isn’t just a happily-ever-after story.  Parts of the story are lip-quaver-inducing. For example, Jack’s mom has to work overtime because they need money for food; and Maddy, Jack’s sister, is autistic, so Jack often finds it difficult to connect with her.

5.  The first book ends on such a cliffhanger (reader, beware), so my kids are all waiting for the next installment.  I think that if the series stretches out to a few more book, it would be a prime opportunity for Hatke to develop Maddy’s character.  I wonder if she’ll become the true heroine of the story.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Ben Hatke’s Online Corners
Website | Twitter | Instagram | Chapters

 

Thank you, Raincoast Books, for sending me a copy of
Mighty Jack in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are my own.

Isabella for Real (Margie Palatini)

17 Mar

I bet we’ve all wondered how our lives would change if we were all of a sudden famous, right?  Squinks, here’s a great story about a little girl named Isabella who suddenly finds fame … and finds out that it’s not quite what she expected it to be.

 

Isabella for Real   

1.  I don’t know that I’ve ever truly wanted to be famous.  As the eldest child, I know what it’s like to have siblings watching and copying my every move, so I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed being in the limelight much.  One of the biggest reasons I liked Isabella for Real is that Isabella’s expectations of fame change very quickly once she finds it.  I know she doesn’t really ask to be famous, but I loved the struggle she has with figuring it all out.

2.  My family is pretty kooky, so I completely enjoyed meeting all of Isabella’s eccentric relatives.  Plus, they keep her grounded, which is what all good families should do, so I’m glad she can count on them (even if they are sometimes  sources of potential embarrassment).

3.  I first fell in love with LeUyen Pham’s illustration when I read the Alvin Ho stories.  The drawings are just wonderful, and the comic strips in this story really propel it along.  To be honest, I wonder why the entire story wasn’t written in comic strips.

4.  I like epistolary novels and diary stories.  There’s something about the first-person perspective that just works with certain books, and this is one of them.  I like that Isabella for Real combines movie storyboards, comic strips, diary entries, and traditional narrative.  That’s kind of how my mind is.

5.  I’m glad that this book tackles the highs and lows of social media.  Smart phones and social apps weren’t really around in my day (dinosaur times, I know), so the problems that arise from them have only begun to find their way into MG and YA stories.  For this reason alone, I think Isabella for Real would be valuable in any elementary library or classroom.  (And for when the kids are older: Sophie Kinsella has a very funny take on Instagram in her novel My Not-So-Perfect Life.)

 

4 Squinkles

 

Margie Palatini’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Chapters

 

Thank you, Raincoast Books, for sending me a copy of
Isabella for Real in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye (Tania Del Rio & Will Staehle)

13 Jan

Triskaidekaphobia, schmriskaidekaphobia.  It may not bode well for Warren the 13th, but Squinks, today, on a decidedly lucky Friday the thirteenth (tempting fate, my paraskevidekatriaphobic friends), you get some goodies, including an introduction to my new friend, Warren.

 

Warren the 13th - Book 1 

Squinklethoughts

1.   I would be way too terrified to ever enter an ancient, dilapidated house – though why I would be compelled to even approach one is beyond me.  But I really enjoyed walking the corridors alongside Warren as he fulfilled his duties as bellhop, valet, and about six hundred other occupations at his family’s rickety hotel.  If you like places with corners that are dark, dank, dusty, and lit  by “a tarnished chandelier that clung to the ceiling like an insect” (not to mention odd creatures lurking in those dark, dank, dusty corners), then I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy Warren’s ancestral home.  (Twelve generations is enough to consider Warren the 1st an ancestor, right?  I’ll have to look that up.)

2.   About the guests at the Warren Hotel … Well, I use the term “guests” loosely.  The mysteries in The All-Seeing Eye begin right away when a tall, thin figure – the first guest in years, might I add – strides into the lobby.  Warren bows to him, and then … silence.  Crickets.  (No, seriously, there were probably crickets outside the hotel chatting away to one another wondering what on earth would have possessed Paleface to visit the hotel.)  I like stories that introduce mysteries and conflicts right away.  It just makes me feel like I’m getting my money’s worth on the ride.  It doesn’t mean every single story has to be that way, but when I encounter one like this, I really appreciate it.  Plus, it leaves room for my favourite literary phenomenon: mysteries upon mysteries upon mysteries upon … (I know some readers dislike this very thing, so just a heads up.)

3.   Tania Del Rio got me in the feels with this gem: “That was the main reason Warren worked so hard: because he knew his father had worked hard, and his father’s father had worked hard, and his father’s father’s father had worked hard, and so on.”  Truth, right?  I mean, even with the words I’m typing right now, I wonder … would Mom and Dad be proud?

4.   Puzzles, secret codes, and (did I mention) mysteries?  Need I say more?

5.   If you’ve been keeping up with my squinkle journey, then you’ll know by now that I LOVE illustrations and that I scour the middle-grade section of bookstores for my Next Great Read.  The All-Seeing Eye stands apart from many books out there because not only is it a great MG story (that, by the way, I would totally recommend to readers who are MG-at-heart like me), it has some gorgeous two-colour illustrations.  And, you know, I think I like Warren a little more now that I’ve seen him.  I can’t draw to save my life, so I’m always enamoured by those who can.  I tip my hat to Will Staehle.

 

Warren the 13th IG 

6.   Students of mine who stalk me on Instagram are well aware of my love for words, names, and etymology, in general (a linguistics background will do that to a person).  It may seem like a small thing, but I love the names in this book.  Warren, Rupert, Annaconda, Petula, Scalene, Friggs, even Sketchy!  It’s a cornucopia of delightful monikers!

7.   Warren has wanderlust.  (Who wouldn’t if you were stuck doing six thousand jobs in a dingy hotel?)  Kindred spirit.  That is all.

 

Warren the 13th 2  

8.   It’s taken a really long time for the sequel, Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods, to pop up, but wait no longer … well, no longer than March 21.  (That’s not that long, right?)  In the meanwhile, click this.  No, THIS.  Enjoy a short story and some puzzles to tide you over until the pub date of Book 2.

 

Warren the 13th SS 

9.   One last serious note.  I highly regret passing on getting a galley of this book at a previous BEA.  I, as you all know, judge books by their covers.  Why would I not, when so much work goes into them?  Well, I didn’t have a lot of time to thumb through this galley, so I passed up Warren and his friends all because I thought the book would be too scary for my taste.  (Maybe I had just seen the cover of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and was completely influenced.)  So, let this be a lesson kids: Do not pass up on a book without thumbing through it first.  Otherwise, you’ll miss out on getting to know people like Warren with his six million jobs.

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

Tania Del Rio’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Chapters

Will Staehle’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Chapters

 

Thank you, Quirk Books, for sending me a copy of
Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye in exchange for
an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

%d bloggers like this: