Tag Archives: middle grade

Late to the Party ARC Review – The Exact Location of Home by Kate Messner

Title: The Exact Location of Home

Author:  Kate Messner

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Kirby “Zig” Zigonski lives for the world of simple circuits, light bulbs, buzzers, and motors. Electronics are, after all, much more predictable than most people–especially his father, who he hasn’t seen in over a year. When his dad’s latest visit is canceled with no explanation and his mom seems to be hiding something, Zig turns to his best friend Gianna and a new gizmo–a garage sale GPS unit–for help. Convinced that his dad is leaving clues around town to explain his absence, Zig sets out to find him. Following one clue after another, logging mile after mile, Zig soon discovers that people aren’t always what they seem . . . and sometimes, there’s more than one set of coordinates for home.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

What a delightful and heartwarming read! I have never read any of Kate Messner’s books, but I have only heard good things from sources I trust. With it being Fall, I was itching to read some middle grade and this one caught my eye in the pile of ARCs I had.

This book is about Kirby, a boy who loves circuits and creating. He’s intelligent, a little awkward, and he’s trying to see if he can both help his mother out because their finances isn’t so hot, and also find his father. What’s intriguing about the novel and Kirby’s desire to find his father, is that Kirby falls in love with geocaching, and uses all of his father’s clues to locate where he has gone. What’s fun about the novel is that Messner makes the reader feel like they are helping Kirby along the way in terms of finding his father through the puzzles and clues.

I also loved the friendship between Kirby and Gianna. Gianna really forces Kirby out of his shell throughout the story and she is such a supportive and kind best friend. It’s wonderful to see friendships between boys and girls in a story that is completely platonic. I also loved Kirby’s relationship with his mother and his desire to try and help her any way he could. He’s a great hero to follow.

The Exact Location of Home is a wonderful, heartfelt romp that balances humour with raw emotion. I can’t wait to check out other books by Kate Messner now, because this one made me a fan!

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Blog Tour – Robots & Repeats (Secret Coders #4) by Gene Luen Yang & Mike Holmes

I was asked to participate in the blog tour for Robots & Repeats (Secret Coders #4) by Gene Luen Yang & Mike Holmes. One of the things I was asked to do was show you my coding skills! Huge thank you to First Second for allowing me this opportunity, and if you are interesting in learning to code, I have provided a link to the suggested tutorials.

Without further ado, let’s see how I did with coding!


SAM LEARNS TO CODE!

I am admit, I am not great when it comes to math and science. I am a huge supporter of STEM and STEM activities, and I even run programs related to this at the public library where I work. My knowledge of coding really steams from basic HTML and I know a little bit of Scratch, which I teach to children during Canada Learn to Code Week. Otherwise, my experience is very limited!

However, I decided I wanted to rise to the challenge that came with this blog tour and learn to code using Turtle Academy. Gene Luen Yang uses Logo to teach coding in Secret Coders, but I decided to go the Turtle route if only because I love having step-by-step instructions.

It’s a lot of fun to see the turtle move in different directions and curl around. Being able to easily put commands in and seeing success is pretty wonderful. What’s great about using Turtle Academy is that it’s very user friendly, encouraging (you get badges!) and it will provide you with hints and solutions if you are unsure of what you need to do next.

As I progressed through the tutorials, it got to the point where I could hide my turtle, and then re-show him. LOOK! MY TURTLE IS MISSING! NO!

Overall, I really loved these coding activities and it’s definitely something that I am going to incorporate for the next Canada Learn to Code Week. It’s a lot of fun, and I appreciate the simplicity of the program given my skills in coding are very basic. This was very engaging and I think for a lot of kids, they will take to this program like fish to bait.


ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Gene Luen Yang is the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. He has written and drawn many graphic novels, including American Born Chinese, which was a National Book Award finalist, as well as the winner of the Printz Award and an Eisner Award. His graphic novel set Boxers and Saints won the Los Angeles TimesBook Prize. He has also written for  the hit comics Avatar: The Last Airbender and Superman.

Mike Holmes has drawn for the comics series Bravest Warriors, Adventure Time, Secret Coders, and the viral art project Mikenesses. His books include the True Story collection, This American Drive, and Shenanigans. He lives with a cat named Ella, who is his best buddy.

 

 


CHECK OUT THE SECRET CODERS SERIES

Secret Coders

Paths & Portals

Secrets & Sequences

Robots & Repeats


Want to see how other Kitlit bloggers fared with the coding challenge? Check out the rest of the blog tour! Thank you again to First Second for allowing me this chance!

Check out how everyone did!

ARC Review – Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

Title: Wishtree

Author: Katherine Applegate

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Red is an oak tree who is many rings old. Red is the neighborhood “wishtree”—people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to Red’s branches. Along with her crow friend Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red’s hollows, this “wishtree” watches over the neighborhood.

You might say Red has seen it all. Until a new family moves in. Not everyone is welcoming, and Red’s experiences as a wishtree are more important than ever.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Katherine Applegate is a household name in middle grade fiction when it comes to writing emotionally charged stories that linger with you long after reading. Much like The One and Only Ivan, Wishtree is one of those stories that seems simple on the surface, but offers so much more below the surface.

This story is about a tree named Red, who is the neighbourhood ‘wishtree.’ They are a large part of the community, with people in the area pinning their wishes on them, hoping they would come true. Not only does Applegate give us the stories of all the neighbourhood residents, but we see this all through Red’s perspective, with our tree offering their opinion, sympathy and kindness.

I also want to point out how much I learned about trees when reading this book. I didn’t realize that trees are multigendered! I also loved learning about their growth as well. It seems appropriate that Red doesn’t have a gender construct given how all-knowing they are. I also liked Red’s friendship with Bongo the crow, and how they would watch the neighbours, trying to understand their wishes.

This is a book was difference and a community coming together. Given the fear of ‘others’ that exists in the world right now, this story shows multiculturalism in a way that shows difference, but how people <i>should</i> be better to one another. The families in this story all want what is best for themselves, but they also wish to help others. It’s a good message, and for those who love stories from a more unique perspective, look no further than Wishtree.

ARC Review – Mighty Jack and the Goblin King (Mighty Jack #2) by Ben Hatke

Title: Mighty Jack and the Goblin King

Author: Ben Hatke

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Like a bolt from the blue, Jack’s little sister Maddy is gone—carried into another realm by an ogre.

When Jack and Lilly follow Maddy’s captor through the portal, they are ready for anything . . . except what they find waiting for them in the floating crossroads between worlds. Even the power of their magic plants may not be enough to get them back to earth alive.

Alone and injured, Jack and Lilly must each face their own monsters—as well as giants who grind the bones of human children to feed their “beast” and a fearsome goblin king in the sewers down below.

But when Jack finds himself in a tough spot, help comes from the most unlikely person: the goblin king!

Huge thank you to First Second & Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Mighty Jack was one of my favourite graphic novels from last year. This is a series full of heart, compassion, humour and action. This book immediately picks up where the previous left off with Jack trying to save his autistic sister, Maddy, and coming to terms with the fact that Lily… Lily might be the love of his life!

Ben Hatke is such a talented artist and writer. I always find when I read one of his stories I get completely sucked in, needing to know every detail regardless of how big or small it is. I also love how he fleshes out his character, each one feeling so believable. I also love inMighty Jack how fearless and true-to-themselves both Jack and Lily are. Maddy is easily a favourite and I think she is written with such love and care. Mighty Jack also sports such vibrant and colourful the artwork. If there is one thing I love about Hatke’s art, it’s that his worlds and characters always look and feel well-realized.

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King is such an action-packed adventure for readers of all ages. It’s accessible, adventurous, heart-warming and just pure fun. The ending of this installment was also epic, and I NEED that crossover to be real, because if it isn’t I feel like my heart is going to be toyed with.

Frankly, I just want more in this series. While the ending is very solid, I feel like I’d tune in no matter how many volumes Ben Hatke creates.

ARC Review – Thornhill by Pam Smy

Title: Thornhill

Author: Pam Smy

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: 1982: Mary is a lonely orphan at the Thornhill Institute For Children at the very moment that it’s shutting its doors. When her few friends are all adopted or re-homed and she s left to face a volatile bully alone, her revenge will have a lasting effect on the bully, on Mary, and on Thornhill itself.

2016: Ella has just moved to a new town where she knows no one. From her room on the top floor of her new home, she has a perfect view of the dilapidated, abandoned Thornhill Institute across the way, where she glimpses a girl in the window. Determined to befriend the girl, Ella resolves to unravel Thornhill’s shadowy past.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Thornhill is easily the creepiest middle grade book I’ve read. Hands down. It’s a book that is spooky, unnerving, and heartbreaking. It’s a story from two perspectives, Mary Baines who is writing a diary in 1982 while living in Thornhill Institute, and in present day we have Ella, who has moved next door to the historical site and becomes entranced by the idea of uncovering the mystery behind the building.

What makes this novel even more interesting is that Mary’s sections are written as a diary, and Ella’s are fully illustrated without dialogue. Mary’s sections are difficult to read given they focus on her lack of friendship, her deeply rooted abandonment problems, and that she has been bullied her whole life. Her diary entries are dark and uncomfortable to read. You really feel for her even though towards the end of the book you see that her sanity and emotions are deteriorating. I really felt for her.

Meanwhile, Ella continues to see Mary from her window, which is why she becomes fascinated by Thornhill. She even breaks in the abandoned building because she is convinced she has seen a young girl from her window. She leaves Mary messages and gifts. She wants to befriend her. What I loved in Ella’s sections is that Smy’s illustrations do a great job of capturing the emotions and intent behind the story. You get a sense that Ella has empathy for Mary and wants to gain a sense of understanding so many years later. The art is mostly great, though it has some awkward moments as well.

Thornhill is a book that is very dark and comes from a deeply emotional place. It’s not for reader’s looking for a whimsy time, and that’s where I’d recommend this to older middle grade readers who can understand concepts such as bullying and death. The ending hurts, and there’s no other way to describe it. Pam Smy’s Thornhill is a unique but difficult read. Reader’s need to be in a particular headspace to really grasp how loaded this story truly is.

ARC Review – The Winnowing by Vikki VanSickle

Title: The Winnowing

Author: Vikki VanSickle

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Marivic Stone lives in a small world, and that’s fine with her. Home is with her beloved grandfather in a small town that just happens to be famous for a medical discovery that saved humankind — though not without significant repercussions. Marivic loves her best friend, Saren, and the two of them promise to stick together, through thick and thin, and especially through the uncertain winnowing procedure, a now inevitable — but dangerous — part of adolescence.

But when tragedy separates the two friends, Marivic is thrust into a world of conspiracy, rebellion and revolution. For the first time in her life, Marivic is forced to think and act big. If she is going to right a decade of wrongs, she will need to trust her own frightening new abilities, even when it means turning her back on everything, and everyone, she’s known and loved. A gripping exploration of growing up, love and loss, The Winnowing is a page-turning adventure that will have readers rooting for their new hero, Marivic Stone, as they unravel the horror and intrigue of a world at once familiar but with a chilling strangeness lurking beneath the everyday. 

Huge thank you to Scholastic Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I want to preface this review by saying a couple of truths: I am a wuss who is easily spooked. I love things that can’t entirely be explained.The Winnowing is such a departure from VanSickle’s previous, more contemporary novels. This is her foray into science fiction, and her love letter to the strange and whimsy.

I will not lie, I was hesitant to read this book even after talking with Vikki at a conference we were both attending. I love her contemporary middle grade novels, I read If I Had a Gyphon during my storytimes, but this book was different. Vastly different. Thankfully, I had prepared myself for this book by watching Stranger Things earlier this year andThe Winnowing is an interesting middle grade novel to say the least.

This is a book about a world where children can be born with powers. If unwinnowed, these powers can manifest into something much more dangerous. To be winnowed is a rite of adolescent passage, it’s an attempt at normalizing. The problem is that the world Marivic and Saren live in, is one that is anything but. Marivic in particular also holds the key to a larger mystery in the story in regards to her family, the town of Darby and the school her mother worked at which was obliterated. The blurb on the back of the book gives you just enough information, but it’s definitely a book that is good going blind into.

What I loved about this book is how unexpected some of the twists and turns were. Some were a little obvious, but I found myself buying into so much of what was happening to these characters,
I was so invested in the atmosphere of the story — it is creepy and uncomfortable. Marivic and her friends felt very believable, their flaws felt real, and I truly felt for them on this journey. My favourite character in the story was Gumps, Marivic’s grandfather. He’s everything I love in a curmudgeon-y old man. A grump who is secretly loving and a little overprotective.

With the circumstances that occur in this novel, you see incredible growth in these characters. Every single one of them. The children in this story are all forced to grow up very quickly given the situation regarding the world and the process of the winnowing. In a lot of ways, these kids are robbed of their childhood and that was so heartbreaking. Marivic in particular shoulders a lot of burden in this story and she’s forced in a lot of ways to think and act more mature than someone normally her age. This is written very well because you can see she’s wrestling with both her circumstances and her actual age and what kids her age should be doing.

There’s a lot of weird and strange in The Winnowing. It’s the kind of book for people who love the X-Files, Stranger Things, Are You Afraid of the Dark?. While two of the references I’ve mention date me, I think they are accurate to what one can expect when reading this book. It’s weird, mysterious, atmospheric and wondrous. I love seeing authors jump out of their comfort zones with genre, because sometimes an experiment can blossom into something extraordinary.

ARC Review – Lost Boys by Darcey Rosenblatt

Title: Lost Boys

Author: Darcey Rosenblatt

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Based on historical events, this unforgettable and inspiring tale for middle-grade readers is about a young boy torn from the only life he’s ever known and held captive as a prisoner of war.

In 1982, twelve-year-old Reza has no interest in joining Iran’s war effort against Iraq. But in the wake of a tragedy and at his mother’s urging, he decides to enlist, assured by the authorities that he will achieve paradise should he die in service to his country.

War does not bring the glory the boys of Iran have been promised, and Reza soon finds himself held in a prisoner-of-war camp in Iraq, where the guards not only threaten violence—they act upon it. Will Reza make it out alive? And if he does, will he even have a home to return to?

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Lost Boys is both a beautiful people of historical fiction. While this book is classified as middle grade fiction, it actually reads much older in some aspects of the story, but regardless of that it’s a very heartbreaking and beautiful story about friendship in Iran during 1982. According to the author’s note, parts of the story where based on an account by her neighbour who had been growing up in Iran.

Reza is a wonderful protagonist who is both kind as he is curious. You learn about Reza’s love of Western music which he got from his Uncle. You learn his love of modern music and the kinds of songs that were present in the 1980s. In some regards this makes Reza seem a little older than he actually is, but I found him to constantly be endearing throughout the story. His friendship with Ebi and Miles are both unique aspects in the story as Ebi at the tender age of twelve believes young boys need to die for their nation, while Miles an Irish aid worker tries to instill a different perspective…

…And it works well in this story. In this story you see Reza feeling torn between the love of his family and country, but also struggling with his feelings towards the political environment in Iran. Characters like Ebi break your heart because they are the product of propaganda, the belief that every man must die for his nation. There’s an idealism in this notion, but the story shows how many of the children are completely robbed of childhoods.

Lost Boys is a very thoughtful read, and Rosenblatt is a beautiful writer. I appreciated much of the leg work that went into this novel, and if you haven’t read the Author’s Note it is worth checking out just to get some extra context to where the author was coming from with the story. This book will leave you sad yet very hopeful in the end.