Tag Archives: middle grade

ARC Review – Real Friends by Shannon Hale & LeUyen Pham

Title: Real Friends

Author:  Shannon Hale & LeUyen Pham

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Shannon and Adrienne have been best friends ever since they were little. But one day, Adrienne starts hanging out with Jen, the most popular girl in class and the leader of a circle of friends called The Group. Everyone in The Group wants to be Jen’s #1, and some girls would do anything to stay on top . . . even if it means bullying others.

Now every day is like a roller coaster for Shannon. Will she and Adrienne stay friends? Can she stand up for herself? And is she in The Group—or out?

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Have you ever read a book that you felt perfectly reflected parts of your life? That’s how I felt when I was reading Real Friends and watching Little!Shannon go through the motions of making friends. Being that this is an autobiographical graphic novel, it’s interesting to see how the artwork and the story co-exist — truthfully, the art does an amazing job capturing this story.

I felt for Shannon throughout the whole book. I was one of those kids who was forced out of “The Group” or was picked last because they didn’t always fit in. I was bullied, shamed, and pushed around. It got to the point where throughout my elementary school years that I really struggled to make friends with other girls (boys, hilariously, no issue). I wanted girl!friends, but when sixth grade began I remember what a dark place I was in. How different I was compared to the other kids in my grade. Like Shannon who was connected to writing her novels and having imagination time, I was similar in my love of drawing, colouring and playing with toys. I always had ongoing plotlines that would span weeks and weeks of “episodes” but by sixth grade, no one thought playing with toys was cool anymore.

And that’s what a lot of this story is about. It’s about Shannon trying to make connections with others while also staying completely true to herself, which in this day and age is hard to do. Children are surrounded with so many new pressures that they lose sight of the person they want to be and become, and I love and appreciate the message that Hale and Pham share throughout this story and being yourself. I found myself nodding a long to the story, cheering for Shannon in her successes, but also having those same possessive feelings when you feel like a friend only belongs to you and no one else (which is totally how kids think when they are young, I did it repeatedly).

I think many kids and adults will love Real Friends and I think it offers some important commentary about what it means to grow up and figure yourself out. Packed with gorgeous artwork and it’s strong storytelling, Real Friends is the perfect book for those in the awkward middle stage, who may need a small helping hand.

ARC Review – Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Title: Short

Author: Holly Goldberg Sloan

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Julia is very short for her age, but by the end of the summer run of The Wizard of Oz, she’ll realize how big she is inside, where it counts. She hasn’t ever thought of herself as a performer, but when the wonderful director of Oz casts her as a Munchkin, she begins to see herself in a new way. As Julia becomes friendly with the poised and wise Olive – one of the adults with dwarfism who’ve joined the production’s motley crew of Munchkins – and with her deeply artistic neighbor, Mrs. Chang, Julia’s own sense of self as an artist grows. Soon, she doesn’t want to fade into the background and it’s a good thing, because her director has more big plans for Julia!

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I have heard nothing by praise for Holly Goldberg Solan’s Counting by 7s, and it’s a book I’ve been meaning to get to (and will, I hope!). Short is her latest effort, and it’s a pretty endearing little story of life, death, and friendship. In fact, I love the dual meaning of the title given that this book refers to life being “too short” and that Julia is in fact “short.”

Julia’s narrative is absolutely infectious. She’s curious, endearing, kind and understanding. Julia wants to know anything and everything, and it’s so apparent in the story to the reader that she is nothing if not filled with good intentions. There’s a lot of beauty in the way in which she understands the world around her. Julia’s loss of her beloved dog, Ramon, causes her to feel so much sadness, but in her sadness you see a beautiful young woman developing understanding, especially when it comes to Olive, another Munchkin in the production of Wizard of Oz who has dwarfism. Their interactions in the story were easily the bits of the novel that stole the spotlight.

Actually, Julia’s interactions with other characters just felt very genuine and spot on. I loved reading her relationship with Mrs. Chang, especially towards the end of the novel when Julia realizes that they share something in common. I also loved the way Goldberg Sloan integrated The Wizard of Oz into the story, adding such a larger, more important message about life being what you make of it, but you can’t turn back — you can only go forward. This is a huge lesson for Julia throughout the story, and how this gets tied into Oz is really special.

This book is adorable, and oh so cute. It will make you laugh, smile, cry, and it’s simply full of feeling. The book understands how children feel when dealing with loss, and I feel like Julia’s portrayal is very realistic. While I didn’t always enjoy being trapped in Julia’s head, I always appreciated her sentiments towards others. Short is one of the sweetest little middle grade reads that has a huge heart.

ARC Review – The Explorers: The Door in the Alley (The Explorers #1) by Adrienne Kress

Title: The Explorers: The Door in the Alley (The Explorers #1)

Author: Adrienne Kress

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Featuring a mysterious society, a secretive past, and a pig in a teeny hat, “The Explorers: The Door in the Alley” is the first book in a new series for fans of “The Name of This Book Is a Secret” and “The Mysterious Benedict Society. “Knock once if you can find it but only members are allowed inside.   This is one of those stories that start with a pig in a teeny hat. It s not the one you re thinking about. (This story is way better than that one.) This pig-in-a-teeny-hat story starts when a very uninquisitive boy stumbles upon a very mysterious society. After that, there is danger and adventure; there are missing persons, hired thugs, a hidden box, a lost map, and famous explorers; and there is a girl looking for help that only uninquisitive boys can offer. “The Explorers: The Door in the Alley” is the first book in a series that is sure to hit young readers right in the funny bone.

Huge thank you to Penguin Ranadom House Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Ever read a book that made you laugh out loud because how quirky it was in nature? I find the best middle grade reads always offer a combination of humour, adventure, and cheeky characters. This is exactly what you will find in Adrienne Kress’ The Explorers: The Door in the Alley — a whimsical, hilarious romp with delightfully funny characters and adventure lurking in each and every chapter.

The Explorers focuses on Sebastien and Evie, two children from very different backgrounds being flung into what seems like an unexplained adventure. Seb is very logical, narrow and stiff, where as Evie is clever and no nonsense. These characters couldn’t be more different and yet the way they work together is something to applaud. I think younger readers will definitely be able to connect to the two protagonists. Also can we discuss the pig in the hat? I loved any time that darn pig showed up!

The writing in this book is chockful of humour and wit. Kress’ writing is sharp as it is funny, and the way in which she is able to describe many of Seb and Evie’s encounters is often very entertaining. The writing is fast, it pops along the pages, and its very upbeat… until the ending. I would argue the ending is the roughest part of this book, and admittedly it left me a tad cold (which is why I want more from this series!). It’s not a bad ending, but it did leave me feeling somewhat unsatisfied.

I am glad that this book is becoming a series, because I feel like these characters have the potential grow into household favourites. Kress is a talented writer with a lot to offer younger readers, and I won’t lie when I say it was so thrilling to be back in one of her worlds again after such a long hiatus. The Explorers is a delightful middle grade story that offers a lot to young readers. While parts of this book feel a bit cliche, I won’t deny how much fun I had reading this book, and I can only imagine how much fun this book will be once it’s in the hands of children everywhere.

ARC Review – Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry

Title: Forget Me Not

Author: Ellie Terry

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: A girl with Tourette syndrome starts a new school and tries to hide her quirks in this debut middle-grade novel in verse.

Calliope June has Tourette syndrome. Sometimes she can’t control the noises that come out of her mouth, or even her body language. When she and her mother move yet again, she tries to hide her TS. But soon the kids in her class realize she’s different. Only her neighbor, who is also the class president, sees her as she truly is—a quirky kid, and a good friend. But is he brave enough to take their friendship public?

As Callie navigates school, she must also face her mother’s new relationship and the fact that she might be moving again—just as she’s starting to make friends and finally accept her differences. This story of being true to yourself will speak to a wide audience.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!
Sam’s Review:

Forget Me Not is a very unique read with an important message. I think Ellie Terry’s novel has so much value in teaching readers about Tourette syndrome. Her protagonist, Calliope suffers from Tourette syndrome, is forced to go to a new place every year, and she never feels like she gets to settle or be herself. A lot of kids look at her strangely because of her tics, and she struggles to make friends due to this condition. She meets a boy named Jinsong who takes a shine to her and they embark on a wonderful friendship.

Calli is an easy character to love and feel sympathy for. She wants to feel like everyone else, wants to feel as though her Tourette syndrome doesn’t define her, and simply, she wants to feel normal. These are all very reasonable things. However, I will admit that I struggled with this book half being written in verse. As much as the poems were beautiful, I found they made me feel distanced from Calli a lot of the time. I felt like could understand her feelings, but by the other side of it, I struggled to really connect with her. In a lot of ways, I did love this story and I do feel it is super important, I think I just wish I could have connected more with the writing. I also think books in verse can be a hard sell to middle grade audiences, regardless of how amazing the story or subject matter is.

Jinsong’s sections were written much more traditionally, and I actually found his sections worked much better for me as a reader, and I loved the way Terry merged the two narratives together. Jinsong and Calli’s relationship is insanely sweet and so genuine. Their moments were easily some of my favourites in the story.

What I adored about Forget Me Not is its sheer honesty. I have never read a book where a character had Tourette syndrome, and I found this read to be very eye opening as well. I think it’s also amazing of the author to share her personal experiences with Tourette syndrome with the reader, just to give them a sense of how truly close to the topic they are. This book was a learning experience for me in a lot of ways, and I appreciate so much of what the author was doing in using her characters to not only educate the reader, but offer a perspective that perhaps they weren’t thinking about. Forget Me Not is a beautiful story through-and-through, and I can only hope more readers pick it up as a means to educate themselves a bit more about life with Tourette syndrome.

 

ARC Review – Blueberry Pancakes Forever (Tuesday McGillycuddy #3) by Angelica Banks

Title: Blueberry Pancakes Forever (Tuesday McGillycuddy #3)

Author:  Angelica Banks

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Winter has fallen in the world of story, and at Brown Street, Tuesday’s typewriter lies silent. Far away in the Peppermint Forest, Vivienne Small fears that she will never again feel the touch of the sun…But when the mysterious Loddon appears in Vivienne’s treehouse, he brings with him terrible danger. Without warning, Tuesday is swept up into the world of story as she has never seen it before. In this forbidding and unfamiliar place – and without her beloved dog Baxterr at her side – Tuesday becomes Loddon’s captive. But who exactly is this strange boy? And will she find a way to defeat him?..Blueberry Pancakes Forever will capture the hearts of everyone who is entranced by the power of story.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I am so depressed that the Tuesday McGillycuddy series is completed. This has been one of my “go-to” middle grade series that I love to recommend to kids at my work. It’s funny, it’s enchanting, the writing is stunning, the characters are delightful — it’s the complete package for any middle grade lover. I loved each installment of this series, but reading Blueberry Pancakes Forever was both wonderful and bittersweet all the same.

I can’t go into too much detail for this review because it is a series and there are events leading into this finale. There’s a lot of drama in this book, particularly involving Vivian Small, Tuesday’s mother’s leading character in her popular children’s series. Baxterr the dog also has some awesome moments in the story as well (although let’s be real here, Baxterr is always the best). I also love the incorporation of food in Blueberry Pancakes Forever, and we get to see more of Tuesday’s family dynamic as well.

There’s also some very heavy moments in this story. For all this series’ humour, there are some gut-punching moments that I know got me as I was reading along. Especially in the first few pages, even! But in all honesty, if you’ve never read the Tuesday McGillycuddy series and you love middle grade, this is A+, will read again material. If you have a young one who loves magic and fun characters, this series is equally for them. While I am sad that this is the last book in the series, I really cannot wait to see what Angelica Banks has in store next.

ARC Review – The Pants Project by Cat Clarke

26828816Title: The Pants Project

Author: Cat Clarke

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: A Transformer is a robot in disguise. Liv is a boy in disguise. It’s that simple. Liv knows he was always meant to be a boy, but with his new school’s terrible dress code, he can’t even wear pants. Only skirts.

Operation: Pants Project begins! The only way for Live to get what he wants is to go after it himself. But to Liv, this isn’t just a mission to change the policy- it’s a mission to change his life. And that’s a pretty big deal.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

The Pants Project is one of those books I knew I had to read when I first discovered it. It is the story of Liv who is transgendered, but goes to a uniformed school that has some strict policies regarding gender and the clothing that must be worn. Liv launches “The Pants Project” in an attempt to show that gender norms shouldn’t be the norm, and since Liv is a boy, he feels that he shouldn’t be subjected to wearing a skirt if he doesn’t identify as female.

This book is an amazing little gem that offers big discussion about being transgendered, as well as rights for those who are transgendered. Liv is a great hero who often discusses with the reader what his identity is like (he states it’s like a Transformer, which I can totally see), what people see on the surface and why people need to dig a bit deeper. Liv’s narration is a wonderful tour de force, showcasing in such simple but powerful ways the kinds of discussion that needs to be had at schools regarding students who are transgendered. Liv’s quest in providing this knowledge doesn’t come without challenges, but he has great support in Jakob, who is just an amazing and sharply written character. Seriously, he and Liv are a delight when they are on the page together.

Also I loved that Liv had two moms. In fact, if I am being honest, the moms were my favourite characters in the story because I love how different their personalities were, but the joke of the story is that they are called “The moms.” I love how their personalities differed on somethings, but they always come together. If anything I wish their had been more of them in the story because they were seriously delightful.

The Pants Project is a fantastic discussion about transgender identity told through a fantastic and clever hero. Much like George before it, Cat Clarke weaves a courageous tale about a young boy who wants to be treated properly, and at the end of the day isn’t that what anyone wants? If you loved George then The Pants Project should easily be your next go to book, as it is both touching as it is smart.

Blog Tour – Fish Girl by Donna Jo Napoli & David Wiesner (Review)

I’m going to be frank: I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into when I was approached by Raincoast to host this stop on the Fish Girl blog tour. If I am being even more honest, I was worried about how I would feel about the book as well. I love when a book proves my feelings wrong, and that is exactly what Fish by Donna Jo Napoli & David Wiesner has done.

Plus, check out this artwork:

fishgirlcomic

Looks dreamy, doesn’t, it?

Once again, huge thank you to Raincoast for allowing me to share my thoughts on this blog tour stop, and I do hope you check out Fish Girl when it releases on March 7th, 2017.


30971730Title: Fish Girl

Author: Donna Jo Napoli & David Wiesner

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: In this graphic novel, a young mermaid, called Fish Girl, living in a boardwalk aquarium has a chance encounter with an ordinary girl. Their growing friendship inspires Fish Girl’s longing for freedom, independence, and a life beyond the aquarium tank.

Sam’s Review:

I’m going to be completely honest: I wasn’t sure I was going to like Fish Girl. In fact, when I received it in the mail I did that dreaded thing you sometimes shouldn’t do: judge a book by it’s cover. I wasn’t sure I was going to like the artwork, and the story sounded merely all right. I was colourfully surprised by how much I enjoyed Fish Girl

However, I say this with an air of caution: Fish Girl is a misleading book. While it’s aimed at middle grade audiences, it does shed light on themes of abuse and abduction in a way that is creepy, and seeing it from that point of view can make it a tough read. On the other side of it, this book reads like a fairy tale as well, sharing both consequences and the potential for a positive outcome. It’s a rough read all around, and I think it definitely offers some interesting discussions that can be had with younger readers on these topics.

I actually do think Mira, our Fish Girl, is a wonderful character. She longs to not be an aquarium attraction and wishes to be like the people on the land who come to see her. She wants legs, and adventures, and yet she’s trapped in a fish bowl by a man who wants nothing more than to gain profit from her existence. It’s a solid story, and it shows that people can take destiny into their own hands. Or in this case, also escape abuse. I like the message that this book presents, and I think the ending does a great job of highlighting ways in which people need to stir a course towards what they truly want from life.

I admit, at times I did have a heart time with the artwork, but it did grow on me as I read on. There’s a lot of very realistic looking artwork, the use of pastel colours is really pretty, and there are moments where the artwork is breathe-taking. There are also moments where it doesn’t fit either, which I found somewhat disappointing. That being said, once I got over my initial feelings, I found myself really digging the art style and coming to the consensus that it actually does a great job fitting the story that is being told.

Fish Girl is definitely not for your average middle grader, and that is okay. I think it teaches a lot to the reader, and it doesn’t feel heavy handed in its approach either. I will say I don’t think the art style will be for everyone, but I do believe there is a very special story being told in this book.


Huge thank you to Raincoast for organizing and allowing me the opportunity to participate in the blog tour. Still curious about Fish Girl? Please check out the other tour stops, and consider purchasing the book when it releases this March!
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