Tag Archives: middle grade

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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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!

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.

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