Review: The Journey of Little Charlie

journey-little-charlieBook: The Journey of Little Charlie
Author: Christopher Paul Curtis
Genre: MG Historical Fiction
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: Little Charlie Bobo comes from a poor, sharecropping family in South Carolina. When tragedy strikes, Little Charlie finds himself heading north with Cap’n Buck, on a journey to bring back three fugitive slaves in Dee-troit, Mitch-again.


1) Little Charlie is quite likeable, albeit he’s rather naive. He certainly takes a while to put two and two together. But, ultimately he does. I also like how “Little Charlie” isn’t really all that little. He’s 12 years old and 6’4.

2) I loved how Curtis handled Little Charlie’s diction. It definitely added flavour to these characters. I’m not always a fan of writing out dialect, because I often find it hard to read. But I had no trouble with this book.

3) Three scenes really stood out for me. The first was the one where Little Charlie returns with bad news for his ma. Wow! I thought this scene was superb in how it handled the raw emotions of the mother, and including Little Charlie’s reactions to her.

4) The second scene involves the slave-catcher. Cap’n Buck is the villain of the piece. (And yes, along with Little Charlie, we get to hang out with the villain for most of the book!) But there’s a scene where the Cap’n is trying to wash himself in the river. All of a sudden, we don’t just have a character who is pure evil. We see that he’s vulnerable, and we (like Little Charlie) feel momentary pity for him. Now, don’t think this makes him any less of a villain. It doesn’t. The Cap’n continues to be despicable throughout the story. But I like how Curtis makes him a little human. It makes him more of a well-rounded villain. (Note: Even better, this is the scene where Cap’n Buck drops the hint of the fate of Little Charlie’s mother… something Little Charlie only figures out much later. Something that just seals the deal on how despicable Cap’n Buck truly is.)

5) Third scene to stand out… Inside the barber shop in Detroit. It somehow reminded me of a Charlie Chaplin scene. (Charlie Chaplin from The Great Dictator.)

6) I liked when Syl and Little Charlie both realize that they are the same the same height and the same weight. (And the reader realizes, that they’re both a little gullible.) It’s an endearing moment. And slightly weird, since it comes at a time in the book when you want to shout at Syl to get out of there.

7) I love the Author’s Notes at the back of the book, explaining the historical nugget that inspired this book. A real young man by the name of Sylvanus Demarest…

8) Being from Canada, I love the Canadian connection! And I love the differences shown between the reactions of the authorities in Detroit (U.S.) versus the townspeople in Chatham (Canada). (BTW, if you ever get the chance to visit the museum in Buxton, Ontario, do it! Below are some pics I took last April.)


1) Okay, so this isn’t a huge criticism. (More like a warning. And “warning” is not really the right word either.) It took me a few chapters to realize that Little Charlie Bobo is a poor, white kid from a share-cropping family. I guess I assumed he was a black slave. The book cover is slightly unclear. So, I was a little confused for a few chapters because the historical stuff didn’t seem to mesh with Little Charlie’s situation. Like the date of the novel being set in 1858 in South Carolina, well before the Civil War. (Note: I don’t really like to read reviews/blurbs about books for fear of spoilers. Especially, if I like the author’s writing style. As for Christopher Paul Curtis, I love his books, so I went into this book blind.) I’m not sure HOW Curtis could have fixed this.

2) The dog and the horse have very similar names: Stanky (dog) and Spangler (horse). And speaking of the dog, I was waiting for her to come back into the story. I don’t know quite how. Maybe à la Incredible Journey?? So, I’m not sure why Curtis makes such a fuss about the dog when he has the dog drop out of the plot quite early on in the book. (Unless… did I miss something??)


My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – Another good book from Christopher Paul Curtis. Going in, I was thinking this was going to be another Underground Railroad book. And it is, in a way… just from the slave-catcher’s perspective. Which is quite intriguing. I think it really only works because of the character of Little Charlie Bobo. (I’d recommend it for ages 10 and up. Maybe age 9?)


Books That Make You Cold

So… I was recently re-reading The Giver by Lois Lowry.

And I was struck by one scene. (Note: This may be a minor spoiler for those who haven’t read the book. But my question is this, WHY haven’t you read this book yet?!)… As Jonas and Gabe are on the run, they are attempting to hide from the heat-seeking aircraft. In order to avoid detection, Jonas transfers memories of snow to Gabe. The memories cool down their body temperatures.

Now, I don’t consider myself a scientist. So my question is this: Is this even possible? Would a heat-seeking device be fooled? Does a memory, such as snow, cool the body down?

(Note: I will give Lois Lowry gets a pass on this detail because of the nature of her story world. Technically, in our world, it’s impossible to transfer memories to another person by laying your hands on their back. But in the world of The Giver, well, this is exactly how it happens for Jonas, the Giver, and Gabe. So story world definitely takes care of this heat/memory/cool thing in the book.)

That said, here’s something I do know…

When I read certain books, they make me feel cold.

long-winterCase in point: The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

In the book, Wilder encapsulates the whole feeling of winter. The never-ending blizzards. The family huddling next to the stove, trying to keep warm. Laura and Pa twisting hay in the freezing lean-to. The train that never comes. Christmas that never comes.

The isolation of the Dakota territory.

The snow. And more snow. And even more snow.

LongWinter1Wilder intended to name the book The Hard Winter… Because that’s probably how in later years they would refer to that winter of 1880-81… Can’t you just see them sitting around the fire saying: “Remember the Hard Winter? This snow is nothing compared to that!”

But the publishers ultimately changed the title to The Long Winter. (I mean, just look at those covers. Neither of them seem to be shouting “hard”.)

By the way, this book received a Newbery Honor in 1941 for its writing.

I know why. Because those words bring feelings of COLD.

Which is great if you’re reading beside a nice, warm fire. Or in summer. Yes, a nice, hot summer day might be the perfect for reading cold books.

What about you? Do you have any books that make you feel cold?

Quick Pick Reviews #4

The theme for this set of Quick Picks is: Children Dealing with Loss.

Note: Quick Pick books are always recommendations. (If I don’t recommend the book, it’s not a Quick Pick!)

Lemons // by Melissa Savage

LemonsThe cute cover of this book, plus the plot surrounding Bigfoot, makes this an unlikely book dealing with the topic of death and loss. But, it does.

Lemonade is the main character, and she’s dealing with the death of her mother and being suddenly dropped into the life of a grandfather she’s only just met. And then there’s Tobin, the neighbour kid whose father hasn’t come home from Vietnam.

Overall, I liked the book, but I thought the Bigfoot stuff a little odd. It certainly didn’t quite pan out like I thought it would. I didn’t necessarily hate the ending, but I didn’t super love the ending either. I did like the relationship developed between Lemon and Tobin. And I liked how Lemon’s struggles are portrayed in the book, often simmering like a volcano ready to explode.

(Side note: Does it bother other people when book mothers sack their child with a name like Lemonade? I know, she was born in the 60s, but still…)

Rain Reign // by Ann M. Martin

20575434Rose (Rows) loves homonyms. And her dog, Rain (Reign, Rein), is a 3-homonym name. But then Rain goes missing during a hurricane. Rose is devastated by the loss of her dog. But Rose has a plan and she’s enlisting the help of a sympathetic uncle.

This is a very realistic portrayal of Rose, who has some form of autism. I love that the book is from her point of view. Too often, we’re the ones on the outside looking in. Ann M. Martin was able to show the difficulties, but also makes Rose sympathetic.

I found the relationship with her father sad. But the uncle and his patience and understanding is beautiful to see. And it’s also wonderful to see Rose grow in how she interacts with the world around her.

Flip-Flop Girl // by Katherine Paterson

flip-flop-girlThis is the story about a family who moves to a new town after the death of the father. The girl (Vinnie) and boy (Mason) both deal with the loss of their dad in different ways. Mason refuses the talk, and Vinnie takes her anger out on her brother.

For Vinnie, it’s not only losing her dad, but also her best friend. A move means a new school. And that’s where she comes across the Flip-Flop Girl, who is dealing with her own loss. But she’s a little… weird. Definitely different from the other kids in Vinnie’s class.

I liked how Paterson connects the threads of Vinnie and Mason’s story with the Luce’s story, especially through Mason, the brother.

While this book is not as powerful as Paterson’s masterpiece Bridge to Terabithia, it’s still a good read. Vinnie’s reactions and thought-process is very interesting.


ARC Review: Hidden Women

Hidden-WomenHidden Women  // by Rebecca Rissman
Genre: MG, Non-Fiction (ages 8-12)
Release Date: February 2018
My Rating: 4 Stars*

*Note: I received a copy of this title from the people at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Basic Plot: This is a non-fiction book about the African-American women who did the math that launched rockets into space… From Katherine Johnson to Dorothy Vaughan to Mary Jackson to Miriam Mann and others.


1) Each chapter deals with one of the women who worked at NASA during the years of the Space Race. It was a nice way to organize the information. For the most part, Rissman tells one main story per woman. For example, Katherine Johnson’s story is that of John Glenn insisting that they “get the girl to run the numbers” before he is launched into space. He knew he could trust HER where he didn’t know what to think of this new IBM computer contraption.

2) There’s a nice balance of NASA history interspersed with the history of desegregation. Again, Rissman chooses a vignette to illustrate. The story she uses is that of Miriam Mann’s quiet defiance against segregation in the cafeteria.

3) I thought Rissman did a nice job explaining the high (and low) points of the Space Race. I actually learned some things I didn’t know before.

4) I like the pictures scattered throughout the book. And the graphics that incorporate the math and physics involved in rocket science are nicely done. We get to see old photographs of the women who worked at NASA, alongside photos of the rockets and astronauts they helped launch into space.


1) Sorry, but I am NOT crazy about the title of this book. It certainly invokes the book Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly. But that title IS clever. I’m guessing that since this book is for kids, they decided to go with a title that is more on-the-nose. Which is okay. It’s just not great.


My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I thought this was a nice dive into the history of these women at NASA. For ages 8-12, it’d be a great resource for any classroom!

Books That Make You Hungry


Are there certain books that make you hungry?

There is one series that makes me particularly hungry. And not hungry for just anything, but hungry for…


Yeah. I know. Weird, right?

Growing up, my mom made us eat oatmeal in the mornings. I can’t remember if this would have been every morning. Probably not. But it SEEMED like every morning.

Can you tell that I wasn’t a huge fan of oatmeal?

I didn’t gag or anything. I could eat the oatmeal. But, when I grew up, I vowed oatmeal would be a thing of the past.

Oatmeal? No, thanks. Pass the toast, please!

And for years, I was happily oatmeal-less.

But then my sister-in-law kept telling me about these books she was reading with her kids… The Sammy Keyes series by Wendelin Van Draanan. So, I started reading them, too. It’s a mystery series, following the adventures Sammy Keyes. She’s kind of like Nancy Drew, only a feistier! And, although it pains me to admit this (because I love Nancy Drew), these books are better written than the Nancy Drew books.

Now, it’s been a few years since Van Draanen finished the series. But a couple weeks ago, I decided to check out a few of the books from the library. Now, as I was reading, I remembered something about the books.

These books make me hungry.

You see, Sammy is always talking about oatmeal. Or eating oatmeal. Or Grams is telling her to eat her oatmeal.

And before I knew it, I wanted to eat… oatmeal.

I was hungry… for… oatmeal! (How is this possible???)

So, I made some. And ate it, too. (Not for breakfast, mind you. For some reason, I still associate breakfast oatmeal as something to avoid.) But every now and then, especially when I pick up one of the Sammy Keyes books, I get a hankering for… you guessed it.


Sprinkled with a little brown sugar, of course.

What about you? Got any book that makes you crack open the kitchen cupboard?

Review: Full of Beans

Full of BeansBook: Full of Beans
Author: Jennifer L. Holm
Genre: MG Historical Fiction
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic plot: A prequel of sorts to Turtle in Paradise. Beans and his gang live in Key West. They have all sorts of plans to make a little cash (Hey! It’s the Depression)… including some shady dealings. That’s when some government men arrive to turn the place into a resort.

What’s Cool

1) I enjoyed returning to some fun characters. Beans is a great narrator. I love his antics and his voice. And how can you not love his diaper gang?

2) Love the setting. And the historical back-drop of Key West being turned into a tourist destination during the 1930s… this was new information to me. And I always like to read about things I don’t already know in history.

What’s Not Cool

1) I’m not sure why this bothered me, but I didn’t like how Mr. Stone kept calling Beans “Peas”. And Beans corrects him everytime, but he still doesn’t get it. I think it comes across as a little too gimicky on the author’s part. Like she was trying too hard??

2) Dropping Ernest Hemingway’s name was a little too obvious. I feel maybe Beans would have referred to him as “Mr. Hemingway”.

Final Thoughts

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – After reading Turtle in Paradise a few years back, I enjoyed coming back to Key West to hang out with the gang.

Review: Swing It, Sunny

51Dl5f8bEEL._SX342_BO1,204,203,200_Book: Swing It, Sunny
Authors: Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
Genre: MG Graphic Novel, Historical
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic plot: Sequel to Sunny Side Up. Sunny’s back home and starting middle school. But she’s having a hard time adjusting to the absence of her big brother, Dale. (Note: This is a Graphic Novel.)


1) The theme of the happy-go-lucky television show… How everything seems slick and fine on the outside, but there’s got to be conflict somewhere.

2) I love it when Gramps pops into the story. First on the telephone, but also for a visit later on. (Too bad the “Girls” from the first book couldn’t tag along. I really liked those old ladies!)

3) I like how the story of Dale remains complicated, yet hopeful. It felt true and honest. I love Sunny’s attempt at connecting with him by giving him a pet rock to take care of.

4) The book has a lot of 1970s nostalgia. And I thought it was done well.

5) I like the introduction of the neighbour girl and her flags. And then how Sunny takes the flags as a challenge, especially when they aren’t as easy to manipulate as they seem.


1) I still would like to see this as a full-scale novel. The graphic novel is fine, but there’s so much more to explore with these characters.

2) I felt the end might have been a tad rushed. When I got there, I felt like saying… “Wait… where’s the rest?” Then I realized that was it. It’s not a bad ending. Actually, it ties up nicely enough, but I still felt there was something lacking.


My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – I thought this was a good follow-up book. Although, I think I like the first one better with the Grandpa. But I really did enjoy returning to Sunny’s world.

ARC Review: Skavenger’s Hunt

1942645805Skavenger’s Hunt // by Mike Rich
Release Date: November 2017
My Rating: 3 Stars*

Basic plot: Henry finds himself back in 1885 on a great scavenger hunt. From New York to St. Louis to Paris, France… he and his rag-tag group of friends are trying to solve the clues to find Mr. Skavenger’s treasure.


1) I really like the time travel scene. Mike Rich does a really nice job describing how the room changes from the present day to 1885. Very nicely done!

2) The book cover is well-suited to the story. I like the little drawings of various hints and clues, all within Henry’s silhouette.

3) The initial interaction between Jack and Henry is priceless. Especially once Henry realizes who Jack is.

4) This is a Westing Game meets The 39 Clues type of book. If you love to solve riddles and figure out clues, you’ll probably like this book.

5) The stakes are clearly outlined. I definitely felt the “ticking-clock”. And while the other kids (Jack, Ernie, and Mattie) just want to find the treasure, Henry’s stakes are a little higher. He wants to get back to his own time!

6) I loved the cameo appearance of a certain author in the middle of the book. Especially the fact that he doesn’t know why they are in his stateroom and how that plays out. This for me was probably the highlight of the book.

7) I loved how Henry sometimes got the clue wrong due his not knowing his history. Particularly with the clue in Paris.


1) I wish there was more character development between Jack and Henry. It was okay, but I’m not sure I buy Jack’s position at the end of the hunt. I think it needed some real heart-to-heart connection between the two boys. We get that a little more with Henry and Mattie (but in my opinion, we don’t need this to happen with Mattie).

2) Which brings me to Mattie. Not sure she was even completely necessary to the book, other than to have a female character. Ernie could have been a Mattie. I liked her character well-enough, but I just didn’t really care too much what happened to her or when she was in danger.  And then… at the end I was completely confused by her character.

3) Now this is a nit-picky one, but I was overwhelmed with all the CAPITAL LETTERS. I realize that this is to indicated SHOUTING or EXCITEMENT (and I didn’t mind the odd one), but it was TOO MUCH!


My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – This was my first ARC* review and it was fun! This book isn’t without faults, but if you love clue hunts, this book is for you 🙂

*Note: I received a copy of this title from the people at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Seventh Wish

theseventhw.jpgBook: The Seventh Wish
Author: Kate Messner
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic plot: Charlie goes ice fishing and ends up catching a fish that grants her wishes. But the wishes all sort of backfire on her. When news hits the family that Abby, her sister, is facing the struggle of a life-time, Charlie’s determined to make one more wish…


1) I love the opening with the ice flowers. That was a beautiful image to start the book. Especially with introducing the sisters, Charlie and Abby. (I do wish Messner that done a little more with this imagery later on in the book. So much potential there! This is where an Epilogue would have worked so nicely. A year later… Charlie and Abby go in search of ice flowers…???)

2) I loved the Fairy Tale element of this story. It had a Fisherman-and-his-Wife vibe. I love how the wishes don’t quite work out. (Like with Bobby vs. Roberto!)

3) I also loved the dramatic element. I don’t really want to reveal it in a spoiler, so if you want to find out, you will have to read the book yourself.

4) The word-game that the family plays was fun. “I’m thinking of a word…” It was truly heart-breaking when, in the second-half of the book, the dad tries to play the game, but the mom just can’t do it. It’s very touching when he reveals the word.

5) I love the Serenity Prayer and I like how it was worked into the story.


1) There are some really tough themes in this book. And it’s coupled light-hearted fare like Irish Dancing and a Wishing Fish. This felt a tad disjointed to me. It’s like the book didn’t know what it was… A Fairy Tale? A Drama?

2) The drama element is well set-up, but then poorly executed at times. Especially when the mystery is solved half-way through the book. Charlie finds out right away, at the same time as her parents. I wish Messner had dragged this mystery out a bit longer. Let Charlie worry a bit more. Let her wonder why her parents are always whispering about something, or speaking in low tones on the phone. This wasn’t HORRIBLE, but I thought it could have been drawn out a bit more to better effect.

3) I can’t believe the mom and dad let Charlie go alone with Abby to the dance competition. I don’t want to give a spoiler here, so I won’t explain… other than to say that suddenly explaining that the dad had a flu bug or food poisoning was NOT the best set up. And there is NO WAY the mom needed to stay behind to bring him tea, water, etc. He’s an adult. He’d probably sleeping most of the day while they were gone. Frankly, I was not convinced. So much so that it brought me out of the story (which is not a good thing). It just seemed like the author needed some excuse to make the parents stay home. Well, in my opinion, it didn’t quite work. 😦


My rating is 3.5 stars (out of 5) – This was an odd mishmash of genres. I loved the Fairy Tale element of the wishing fish. I like the drama element. While I’m not sure if Messner fully pulled it off, I did like the book and it’s good enough to get 3.5 stars from me.

Review: Orphan Island

imagesBook: Orphan Island
Author: Laurel Snyder
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic plot: Jinny is the oldest child, or “Eldest”, of nine orphans on a mysterious island. When the next child arrives in the boat, it will be her turn to leave because the rules say there can only be nine orphans living on the island. But Jinny doesn’t feel ready to leave yet. So what will happen if she stays?


1) The mystery of the island is intriguing. It’s what kept me reading. What is this island all about? Where do the children come from? Where do they go? What happened to Deen? Who made all the rules? What happened to Abigail?

2) The island is like a character itself. (And come to think of it, so is the boat.) The nine orphans are living out an idyllic childhood on a beautiful desert island… the stuff of novels. And it’s safe there, as the island takes care of its own. Is there a child out who hasn’t daydreamed this very scenario?

3) The little rhyme… “Nine on an island, orphans all…” is used quite nicely in the book.

4) I liked the dynamic between the children. Very realistic. For the most part there is comradery, but (as in real life) there’s also Eevie. Oh, Eevie. The character that you’re ready to vote off the island!

5) The book cover is beautiful. I feel it captures the mystery of the island quite well with the boat and child in silhouette. And yet the trees and foliage are friendly, whimsical, and protective (like the island in the book).

6) [*SPOILER] I loved figuring out half-way through that the island is a metaphor for childhood. Jinny cannot stay safe in childhood forever, which is why the island starts to fall apart after she refuses to leave in the boat. It’s interesting that this affects not just Jinny, but the other children as well. [*END SPOILER]


1) I had a hard time liking Jinny. She kept saying what a bad teacher she was, and neglecting her duty to instruct Ess, her “Care”. (I preferred Ben or Joon, by the way. But they’re not our main character, are they?)

2) We don’t get to find out what happens once the children leave the island. Like Abigail and Deen. We’re never given any idea of the mothers left behind and why the children are sent to the island in the first place. We’re left with this instead: [*SPOILER] “Out there were answers. She hoped she was ready for them.” This is where the metaphor of the island-as-childhood breaks down. In real life, we have adults who can help guide the child through the transition into adulthood. This isn’t death where we don’t have anybody who can explain things to us! [*END SPOILER] Instead, it would have been nice if Laurel Snyder had put in some Epilogue just to help with some of those answers.

3) There isn’t a whole lot of plot/danger in this book, especially in the first half. Apparently because nothing major can hurt the children. (Even if they throw themselves off the cliff, the wind sends them safely back to land.) This is not a huge strike against the book, but if you’re expecting more things to happen, you’re in for a disappointment.

4) The children have books on the island. Some of them are described as the one with the boy wizard (Harry Potter) or the girl with a monkey and a horse for friends (Pippi Longstocking). Since this island thing isn’t part of the real world (obviously!), I wish she hadn’t used real-world books. Although, I will give her credit that at least she does NOT use the actual titles for the books. Even so, the descriptions were enough to break me out of the spell of this world she had built. I wish she had been a little more creative in this area.


My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – I liked this book well-enough. I loved the idea of the metaphor that was played out. Would I recommend it? Probably not so much for its target audience (kids), but maybe more for adults. Which is kinda weird considering the themes of the book. Maybe this would make a good book for a read-aloud, because there is so much to discuss.