Tag Archives: middle grade

Late to the Party ARC Review – Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life by Shelley Tougas

Title: Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life

Author: Shelley Tougas

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: A life on the prairie is not all it’s cracked up to be in this middle-grade novel where one girl’s mom takes her love of the Little House series just a bit too far. Charlotte’s mom has just moved the family across the country to live in Walnut Grove, “childhood home of pioneer author Laura Ingalls Wilder.” Mom’s idea is that the spirit of Laura Ingalls will help her write a bestselling book. But Charlotte knows better: Walnut Grove is just another town where Mom can avoid responsibility. And this place is worse than everywhere else the family has lived—it’s freezing in the winter, it’s small with nothing to do, and the people talk about Laura Ingalls all the time. Charlotte’s convinced her family will not be able to make a life on the prairie—until the spirit of Laura Ingalls starts getting to her, too.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I admit, I am not a huge Little House on the Prairie fan. It’s not something I grew up around so I will say I did have a bit of a difficult time with this one. While the story is an adorable tale of a mom moving her kids to the birth place of Laura Ingalls in an attempt to write her masterpiece of a novel, there were a few things that didn’t work for me on this one.

On one hand, this is a story about friendship and growing up, but I won’t lie and say that Charlotte is a likable character. In this regard, I think Tougas does a good idea of showing how easily judgmental children can be. These issues of friendship in particular are handled well and I feel like the children in this story were far better developed than the adult characters. It was great to watch Charlotte develop friendships with Bao and Julia, and I appreciated that their discomfort of each other went both ways.

The adults in this book, however, are the actual problem. They are very flat or lacking in any characterization. Charlotte’s mother in particular was a bit of a caricature as opposed to a character, as her only defining characteristic is her positive attitude. Whenever Charlotte deals with her in the story, those bits were sometimes difficult to shallow because I felt like Charlotte’s mother forcing her positive attitude may not have been what was best for her children. There’s also her obsession with Laura Ingalls, which I admit, I didn’t understand or really care for. I think if I had been a fan of Little Housethis book likely would have appealed more to me.

With all this said, I do think Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life is a delightful read for the most part. There’s moments of well-timed humor and I think Charlotte is a heroine that many kids will be able to relate to whether they like her or not. I am still glad I read this book and gave it a chance, and I’m curious as to what Shelley Tougas has in store for middle grade audiences in the future.

 

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Late to the Party ARC Review – Ban This Book by Alan Gratz

Title: Ban This Book

Author: Alan Gratz

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: An inspiring tale of a fourth-grader who fights back when her favorite book is banned from the school library–by starting her own illegal locker library!

It all started the day Amy Anne Ollinger tried to check out her favorite book in the whole world, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, from the school library. That’s when Mrs. Jones, the librarian, told her the bad news: her favorite book was banned! All because a classmate’s mom thought the book wasn’t appropriate for kids to read.

Amy Anne decides to fight back by starting a secret banned books library out of her locker. Soon, she finds herself on the front line of an unexpected battle over book banning, censorship, and who has the right to decide what she and her fellow students can read.

Reminiscent of the classic novel Frindle by Andrew Clements for its inspiring message, Ban This Book is a love letter to the written word and its power to give kids a voice.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I enjoyed Ban This Book. It’s the story of a girl whose favourite library book has been removed from her school’s collection on the challenge by one parent. This parent then uses her power of the school to have other popular titles banned so that they cannot be enjoyed by others.
Our heroine, Amy Anne, tries to go to a school board meeting to speak out against this decision, but she afraid and in the end doesn’t. Mad at herself for not fighting back in that instance, she begins to hide popular banned books in her locker for the students at her school to check out. It’s a story about trying to make changes and have other’s make formulate their own opinions before books should be challenged.

Ban This Book has a lot of charm to it as Amy Anne and her friends are very cute, and you gotta love their gusto about preserving and sharing books regardless of content. I will admit that parts of the writing style did annoy me at times (especially any time ‘she wanted to say this, but instead didn’t,’ which is mentioned far too many times). However, despite my gripes, I love how this book was a love letter to banned books, and it was great to see a history of popular banned items shared throughout the story. I also loved that it shows such a level of love and respect to library workers and what kinds of complicated feelings go into collections and ensuring that everyone has equal access to materials.

I believe that Ban This Book has a wonderful and important message about censorship and the freedom to read. It’s a great middle grade novel that will introduce readers to so many books that have been banned or challenged, what the reasoning was and how people come together all in the name of literacy.

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!

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.