Tag Archives: middle grade

Ella and Owen #1: The Cave of Aaaaah! Doom! (Jaden Kent)

12 Sep

Sibling rivalries make for awesome stories – in real life and in books.  If you’ve got young’uns who love to squabble with their brothers and/or sisters, they might love the antics of twins Ella and Owen!

 

Ella and Owen 1 Squinklethoughts

1.  Okay, so Ella and Owen don’t always fight … sometimes, they just argue.  In this first of a long-running series, Owen has a cold, but it’s not so bad.  He can stay in bed to read stories about hairy trolls, magical fairies, and heroic dragons.  But Ella thinks they should look for Orlock Morlock, a dragon wizard who is rumoured to be able to cure anything.  It will probably be smooth sailing, right?  My students got into this story right away, and it has a lot to do with its compelling intro.

2.  The story has some very imaginative features, including Ella and Owen encountering an ogre (a little terrifying) and an evil veggie wizard (super terrifying).  Lots of great fun!

 

Ella and Owen 1 - 1-2

 Ella and Owen 1 - 3-4  

3.  The sibling love-hate relationship thing works very well in this story, and engenders lots of funny dialogue between the two main characters.  I’m sure many readers can imagine having similar conversations about escaping ogres and other fantastical creatures with their own dear siblings.

4.  The illustrations are great and really bring out the personalities of Ella and Owen – not to mention the other characters they encounter!  Even better is the fact that the first book ends on a very exciting cliffhanger – my students were begging for the follow-up.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Jaden Kent’s Online Corners
Website | Chapters/Indigo – the 2nd book!

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Tales of Sasha #1: The Big Secret (Alexa Pearl)

7 Sep

If you have little ones looking to start a well-established series that’s about friendship and bravery, look no further than the Tales of Sasha books by Alexa Pearl.

 

Tales of Sasha 1

Squinklethoughts

1.  In The Big Secret, Sasha, a young horse, has always felt just a little different from her friends and family.  She sometimes has a hard time following the rules – not that she wants to be a troublemaker, of course!  But something inside her just makes her move differently.  The way that Sasha leaps across the sky, enjoying the breeze blowing through her mane, seems so magical, and is enough to hook kids into wondering what surprises the rest of the story has in store.

2.  I love that this book lets young readers know that it’s okay to be different because sometimes a person’s differences are actually sources of strength.  The whole series makes it easy to talk to kids about topics like uniqueness, appearances, and finding oneself.

3.  The friendship between Twinkle and Sasha is sweet.  Although Twinkle is wary about getting into trouble because of her friend, she is just the companion that Sasha needs.  In subsequent stories, we get to know more about the rest of the horses in Verdant Valley and Crystal Cove, and they’re a wonderfully colourful cast of characters!

4.  The illustrations in this series are top notch.  Are there going to be stuffed toys made of the cute little horses?  Gorgeous images!  I seriously think that part of the reason my younger students love this series is the lovely world of Sasha and her friends, which are so richly drawn and coloured.  I’d love to put up posters or give away postcards of this story for Halloween or something.

 

Tales of Sasha 1 - 1 

Tales of Sasha 1 - 2-3  

5.  Teachers/parents: This book and series would be great for early readers, especially those who invest themselves in long-term stories with the same characters.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Alexa Pearl’s Online Corners
Website | Chapters/Indigo

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.

Love Sugar Magic #1: A Dash of Trouble (Anna Meriano)

13 Mar

Squinks, if you’re looking for a story brimming with magical adventures and misadventures, with a healthy serving of heart and humour, then you must read Anna Meriano’s Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble.

 

 Squinklethoughts

1. I love origin stories about magical people.  I think that’s what drew me to the Harry Potter series because the pitch involved a boy who learns he’s a wizard.  In A Dash of Trouble, Leo(nora) discovers that she and the other girls in her family are brujas – witches with magical powers that are passed down the matriarchal line.  It was really interesting to read about how Leo discovers her family secret and how she handles (bumbles) it.  I totally would’ve bumbled it, too, I bet.

2.  Leo is a sweet character who does many wrong things for the right reasons, and these choices are sources of great conflict – and comedy!  While her stubbornness at not leaving experimenting with magic left me saying out loud, “Don’t do it!” as if she were a movie character taking a shortcut through the woods at night, the thing is … I totally get her.  It’s hard to listen to people who are trying to prevent you from growing up or developing your skills.

3.  I don’t know what it’s like to grow up as the youngest in a large household, but I bet I’d be as frustrated as Leo is, having to watch her sisters, mom, and aunt work to make their family panadería successful, all while being told that the best way to help is to stay out of the way … for four years!  At 11, Leo is too small, too young, too green to start doing magic, but what she lacks in age and experience, she makes up for in enthusiasm and heart.  I have a sneaky suspicion I wouldn’t have been able to wait four years either.

4.  I like the friendship between Leo and Caroline.  I also like that Caroline has a sad back story, which is probably one of the reasons that Leo wants to help her out so much.  It’s nice to find good, loyal friends at a young age.  I also really appreciated Meriano’s development of Brent’s character.  Rather than being a “typical” boy that middle-grade girls (and girls of all ages, come to think of it) stay away from because of cooties, Brent is kind—often sweet—to Caroline and Leo.  It’s a welcome change from other stories with female protagonists that often brush boys aside.

 

  

5.  There is so much to love about this story, and I’m glad it’s just the first in a series.  I really want to know more about Leo’s mama, abuela, bisabuela, and tías.  I definitely want their stories and Leo’s sisters’ stories to appear more in the next books.  Their personalities and magical powers are so different … there is so much potential for great plot lines and conflicts in subsequent tales.  And Leo’s dad.  Well, he’s a Pandora’s Box I can’t wait to open.  (Be careful what you wish for?)

6.  One of the best things about this book is how liberally Spanish words and phrases are sprinkled throughout it.  Because I code-switch all the time at home (and even at work, when I don’t realize it), it was so natural, but also refreshing, for me to have Leo and her family speaking a combination of English and Spanish.  Meriano offers readers a great avenue to learn a bit about this beautiful language and the cultures from whence it came.  This is definitely one of the unique strengths of this novel.

7.  Teachers/parents, I very much recommend this book for all your MG readers, especially if they’re into magic, sisterhood, and learning a little of the Spanish language.  I bet the follow-ups will be even better!

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

Anna Meriano’s Online Corners
Website | Twitter | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, HarperCollins Canada, for sending me a copy of Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

The Lost Rainforest #1: Mez’s Magic (Eliot Schrefer)

22 Feb

Readers who love stories about animals, unlikely friendships, and near-impossible goals will love Eliot Schrefer’s The Lost Rainforest: Mez’s Magic.

 

Lost Rainforest - Mez's Magic Squinklethoughts

1. I love stories about unlikely friendships and partnerships.  What better way is that demonstrated than in a story where a panther, fruit bat, tree frog, and capuchin monkey join forces to defeat a common foe?  I love Schrefer’s choice to use rainforest animals as defenders of their world.  It only makes sense that those living in Caldera would have the most reason to want to keep it safe.

2.  Mez’s relationship with her sister, Chumba, is so sweet, and one of my favourite parts of the whole story.  Their banter and the way that Mez looks out for Chumba all the time really makes you fall in love with Mez right from the start of the novel.  Add to that their double defense against Mist, their luminous cousin, and you’ve got a great sister tag team that I hope will make it into the other stories.

3.  Speaking of other stories, Mez’s Magic is the first in a planned series of books, each of which will be told from the perspective of one of the animals.  In general, I don’t like having multiple narrators, but in this case, because Lima (the bat), Rumi (the frog), and Gogi (the monkey) are all delightful and unique, I can imagine how successful having each of them as narrators in the following books could be.  I particularly love Rumi’s nerdiness – he totally speaks my language!

4.  There is a lot of action in the back half of the story, which was great because I enjoyed the animals’ journey to the ziggurat, and was kind of worried that there wouldn’t be as much adventure when they got there.  I love that there’s even a ziggurat in the book (great teachable moment), though it was hard for me to imagine all the panels on the ziggurat that the animals were seeing.  I hope subsequent books will include them.  I can see a set of playing cards or collectible cards being made from all the creatures and places in this story.  Schrefer has created a richly detailed world!

 

Lost Rainforest - Mez's Magic 2  

5.  Teachers/parents, I have no trouble recommending this book for your children’s bookshelves.  The compassion of Mez and her friends are really important to encounter in literary characters, and it’s one of the reasons I enjoyed this story.  I wonder though if maybe you want to wait ‘til the second book comes out before getting this one because you can bet your little readers will be clamouring for the next as soon as they turn the last page!

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

Eliot Schrefer’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, HarperCollins Canada, for sending me a copy of The Lost Rainforest: Mez’s Magic in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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