Tag Archives: middle grade

ARC Review – Path to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist by Sylvia Acevedo

Title: Path to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist

Author:  Sylvia Acevedo

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: A meningitis outbreak in their underprivileged neighborhood left Sylvia Acevedo’s family forever altered. As she struggled in the aftermath of loss, young Sylvia’s life transformed when she joined the Brownies. The Girl Scouts taught her how to take control of her world and nourished her love of numbers and science.   With new confidence, Sylvia navigated shifting cultural expectations at school and at home, forging her own trail to become one of the first Latinx to graduate with a master’s in engineering from Stanford University and going on to become a rocket scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This was an unexpected read that ended up on my door step. Someone who’s opinion I highly trust said it was a non-fiction book that I would likely adore. She was 100% right about that, as Path to the Stars explores the life of Sylvia Acevedo and her story of being a girl scout who loved science and wanted it to become a part of the Girl Scouts mandate.

I loved this book. I think Sylvia Acevedo’s story is one a lot of young women can easily relate to. She was lucky to have so much support from her loved ones, and trying to fit all the things that she loves into the world and giving it to those who may not have that opportunity, she wants to make that a reality for young girls everywhere. I loved learning about her traditional upbringing and I liked how this book covered her childhood right up to her first few years at college.

Having a background to her life and seeing what she has accomplished is so inspiring, and what I love is that this book teaches the value of moving from a lack of privilege, to a place of privilege, and being able to use it to give back to those who lack opportunities or are denied chances to be included because of family life and socio-economical issues. I think Path to the Stars is a thoughtful memoir that I hope any younger readers check out, and hopefully they will feel inspired by Acevedo’s life as much as I did reading this book.

 

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ARC Review – After Zero by Christina Collins

Title: After Zero

Author: Christina Collins

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Elise carries a notebook full of tallies, each page marking a day spent at her new public school, each stroke of her pencil marking a word spoken. A word that can’t be taken back. Five tally marks isn’t so bad. Two is pretty good. But zero? Zero is perfect. Zero means no wrong answers called out in class, no secrets accidentally spilled, no conversations to agonize over at night when sleep is far away. But now months have passed, and Elise isn’t sure she could speak even if she wanted to―not to keep her only friend, Mel, from drifting further away―or to ask if anyone else has seen her English teacher’s stuffed raven come to life. Then, the discovery of a shocking family secret helps Elise realize that her silence might just be the key to unlocking everything she’s ever hoped for… 

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

After Zero is a book with an interesting premise: Elise is a young girl with selective mutism and her school questions why this is the case. They are frustrated by her lack of speaking, but don’t necessarily go about things in the most positive of manners. This is a middle grade book that is very emotional, and one I flew through in nearly a day.

I loved Elise and I loved being in her mind. While this book doesn’t have a lot of dialogue or conversations, it’s interesting to see how a character with selective mutism interacts with their fellow classmates, family members and school faculty. Elise writes her feelings out, she is still emotionally a very expressive young girl, and the author makes Elise’s story all the more interesting because we are only given such a limited scope of details. As the reader, it’s like you have to build friendship and trust with Elise before she even opens up to you and I appreciate that tone of voice and distance in a story like this. In that regard, it creates a great mysterious atmosphere.

This book is a intriguing look at children’s mental health issues. This book is written with passion, tenderness, and and tons of empathy. This book shows how Elise’s actions affect others and those around her. I think this book will be a fantastic tool to teach kids about empathy and how mental illness affects children during traumatic and difficult times. This is a fantastic debut, and one I hope many will share with this kids.

Late to the Party ARC Review – The League of Lasers (Star Scouts #2) by Mike Lawrence

Title: The League of Lasers (Star Scouts #2)

Author: Mike Lawrence

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: Avani has found the one place in the universe where she fits in: Star Scouts. The League of Lasers is the second volume of this action-packed graphic novel series by Mike Lawrence.

During a troop meeting, a robot messenger delivers Avani some exciting news: she has been invited to join a secret society of elite scouts known as the League of Lasers. She is eager to join their ranks, but first she has to survive her initiation challenge.

Stranded on an uncharted planet, Avani must contend with the methane atmosphere, hostile frog-like inhabitants, and her dwindling supplies of food and water. But even worse: her arch nemesis, Pam, is stranded there, too.

Huge thank you to First Second for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Back in the Spring I was invited to do a blog tour showcasing strong females in comics, and somehow I missed out on including Star Scouts. Sadly, I hadn’t read the first volume of this, and truthfully that might be why I liked, but didn’t love this.

I will say, I LOVED the designs of the space aliens in this book. They were colourful, quirky and so cute looking! I thought the characters were pretty engaging as well, especially our heroine, Avani, who is just so strong-willed and passionate. The characters were very fun and engaging, and I can totally see why kids would love this series.

I may have to do a reread of this one at some point and once I can get my hands on the first book. I think truthfully that was what hampered my enjoyment, and given it always has lots of holds at work, I suppose I really should just put myself on the list.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Tiny Infinities by J.H. Diehl

Title: Tiny Infinities

Author: J.H. Diehl

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: When Alice’s dad moves out, leaving her with her troubled mother, she does the only thing that feels right: she retreats to her family’s old Renaissance tent in the backyard, determined to live there until her dad comes home. In an attempt to keep at least one part of her summer from changing, Alice focuses on her quest to swim freestyle fast enough to get on her swim team’s record board. But summers contain multitudes, and soon Alice meets an odd new friend, Harriet, whose obsession with the school’s science fair is equal only to her conviction that Alice’s best stroke is backstroke, not freestyle. Most unexpected of all is an unusual babysitting charge, Piper, who is mute—until Alice hears her speak. 

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This book was very much a slow burn for me as far as middle grade reads are concerned. This is a book about loss, change, friendships, and swimming. When Alice’s father leaves her family, she decides to take refuge in his old Renaissance tent in the backyard. Her summer is showing constant change, as she meets a new girl who loves science, but is a bit odd. She meets a girl who is a mute that she attempts to befriend, and she spends her days learning that perhaps difference and change isn’t such a bad thing.

Alice’s story is one I think a lot of readers will be able to relate to. She’s learning to deal with her family getting a divorce, she’s determined to try and stop her world for changing. Alice is lovable as a heroine — she’s stubborn, determined, and a bit shy. She’s a character I think a lot of readers will connect with because she goes through events in her life that are challenging, and there is such an unknown feeling to the changes she encounters.

I also really liked the writing in this book, even if the story was a tad slow. I did find Harriet, Alice’s newfound friend, to be a bit of a difficult character. At times she read very robotically, though that may stem from the fact that she is very intelligent and somewhat socially awkward. I think she’s a character kids may have some trouble with just because her vocabulary is so advanced compared to other children in the story, but I think given how she is portrayed, it makes a lot of sense.

I enjoyed my time with Tiny Infinities. I loved it’s message about how adapting to change can be wonderful and rewarding, and I loved that as a middle grade story, it had subject matters that kids could relate to, but they were still complex enough to be challenging. I definitely look forward to recommending this to more patient middle grade readers. I don’t recommend this for readers looking for a fast paced adventure, because that doesn’t exist here.

ARC Review – Flor and Miranda Steal the Show by Jennifer Torres

Title: Flor and Miranda Steal the Show

Author: Jennifer Torres

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Miranda is the lead singer in her family’s musical band, Miranda y Los Reyes. Her family has worked hard performing at festivals and quinceañeras. Now, they have a shot at the main stage. How will Miranda make it a performance to remember? Flor’s family runs the petting zoo at Mr. Barsetti’s carnival. When she accidentally overhears Mr. Barsetti and Miranda’s dad talk about cutting the zoo to accommodate Miranda y Los Reyes’s main stage salary, she knows she has to take action. Will she have the heart for sabotage once she and Miranda actually start to become friends? 

Huge thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Flor and Miranda Steal the Show was a book I didn’t even have on my radar. Going to HGBC ARC list, I read the synopsis and decided to give it a whirl because it felt like something children at my library branch would enjoy. For such a such book, it took me awhile to read — not because it was bad, but because it was rich in entertainment and meaningful discussion.

Miranda is the lead singer in her family’s ranchera band, while Flor is a girl who works in her family’s petting zoo. When the carnival states that they are losing funds, Flor over hears that the petting zoo is in danger and that the money will go towards Miranda’s ranchera band, which is growing in popularity. This premise tells you a lot about the story on the surface, but what it doesn’t show is just how intense Miranda and Flor’s friendship is.

This is a book about family trials and tribulations and how desperate stakes can affect a friendship, and this element is done so well. You feel for both Flor and Miranda, you see how their friendship is in jeopardy, but you also see how the girls work to try and show value for each other and their families. The book also shows the level of sacrifices the girls are willing to make to take care of each other, which is crazy unheard of in middle grade.

Flor and Miranda Steal the Show is a wonderfully crafted middle grade story that focuses on so many different topics, and does it with humour and heart. It’s a story that shows how friends can work together to overcome difficult challenges, and even how they can advocate for each other. I adored this carnival tour, and I cannot wait to share this book with younger readers.

ARC Review – Breakout by Kate Messner

Title: Breakout

Author: Kate Messner

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Nora Tucker is looking forward to summer vacation in Wolf Creek–two months of swimming, popsicles, and brushing up on her journalism skills for the school paper. But when two inmates break out of the town’s maximum security prison, everything changes. Doors are locked, helicopters fly over the woods, and police patrol the school grounds. Worst of all, everyone is on edge, and fear brings out the worst in some people Nora has known her whole life. Even if the inmates are caught, she worries that home might never feel the same.

Told in letters, poems, text messages, news stories, and comics–a series of documents Nora collects for the Wolf Creek Community Time Capsule Project–Breakout is a thrilling story that will leave readers thinking about who’s really welcome in the places we call home.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Breakout wasn’t what I thought it would be for a middle grade novel. It is a mixed media novel filled with comics, letters, text messages, and documents that are collected. It’s also based on a jail breakout that occurred in 2015 and the grinding halt it put a town into.

This book took me awhile to read. The first half moved so quickly, to the point where I was pretty swept up in the story. Then I hit the middle and the book came to this weird, grinding halt for me. I mixed media style wasn’t engaging me anymore and if I am being honest, the main fault of this book is that it’s actually a bit too long for it’s own good, and I feel like parts of it could have easily been edited down.

That being said, I loved the social activism in this book. Nora, Elidee, and Lizzie, are very engaged young adults who are trying to understand fear mongering, depression, discomfort, and alienation. The Wolf Creek Community is shocked to its core when two inmates break out of the nearby prison. Nora, Elidee and Lizzie talk about how the adults project onto them, while also writing to a future generation who may not realize what this situation has done to the community.

What I like about Kate Messner’s novels is that they always have an element of excitement to them. They are engaging, exciting, and they have such a consistent flow for readers. This book has all that, but it’s interesting seeing the level of discomfort in the story, and that felt new here. I will also point out, I love the recommendations that Messner put into the back of the book and I definitely want to check out all the books on those lists that I haven’t read yet.

While I didn’t enjoy Breakout as much as The Exact Location of Home, I still think this is going to be a great middle grade novel for readers who love stories that are different. I think this book will kindle the interest of middle graders who are interested in social activism and understanding justice. I think it will spark great conversation as well, and I look forward to recommending it to many of my middle grade readers at the library!

ARC Review – The City on the Other Side by Mairghread Scott & Robin Robinson

Title: The City on the Other Side

Author: Mairghread Scott & Robin Robinson

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: The first decade of the twentieth century is coming to a close, and San Francisco is still recovering from the great earthquake of 1906. Isabel watched the destruction safely from her window, sheltered within her high-society world.

Isabel isn’t the kind of girl who goes on adventures. But that all changes when she stumbles through the invisible barrier that separates the human world from the fairy world. She quickly finds herself caught up in an age-old war and fighting on the side of the Seelie — the good fairies.

Huge thank you to First Second for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

City on the Other Side was a graphic novel I knew nothing about that happened to show up on my door step. It tells the story of a girl named Isabel who is very sheltered, but after a large scale earthquake, decides she may in fact be ready for adventure.

Isabel is a character I think many readers will easily be able to relate to. She’s shy and nervous, but she grows through the course of the story. Stepping through an invisible barrier, Isabel is transported to a new world where fairies lay. Over the course of the story we see her befriending the fairies and trying to make sense of the difference between the fairy world and where the humans reside.

I have to say, I really liked the artwork in this graphic novel. It’s whimsical, the colours used really pop off the page. There is just so much energy in both the story and the panels, making City on the Other Side a lot of fun to read. The one thing I wish though was that it was just a bit longer. I feel like there was definitely potential to expand the story in different areas, but that’s more of a minor complaint.

If you want to read a great graphic novel with a reluctant, but lovable heroine, please check out City on the Other Side. It’s a great story for younger and older readers alike.