Review / On the Horizon

on-the-horizonBook: On the Horizon (2020)
Author: Lois Lowry
Genre: MG, Non-Fiction/WWII
Rating: 5 stars

Basic plot: A memoir of sorts, this book focuses on two major events during World War II: The bombings of Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima. Lois Lowry takes her experiences as a young child living in Hawaii, and later Japan, and mingles them with the stories of people who lived (and died) during these pivotal events.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) As a history buff, I love anything with a connection to history. Most books that focus on World War II tend to discuss the European theatre. This book focuses on the Pacific theatre.

2) The poetry (sometimes blank verse, sometimes rhyme) give this book the quality of introspection. I do think the style ramps up the emotion of the devastation that these two dates in history bring. I’m not always a fan of books written in verse, but this one works very nicely in this format.

3) I like that the book dives into the lives of the ordinary people who died during these events. It makes it that much more personal. That these people were real. The dates (December 7, 1941, and August 6, 1945) aren’t just some historical dates in some dry textbook.

4) I loved the emphasis on healing from the hurts and atrocities of war and hatred. I loved the part about the misunderstanding she has in Japan about the woman who reaches out to touch her hair. What did the woman really say? Did she mean hate or was it really pretty? I love Lowry’s conclusion.

5) The Author’s Note at the end pulls everything together… The two kids—one American and one Japanese—who grow up and connect many years later. And they know their connection is real because of the green bicycle.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I have nothing to put here. This book was beautiful.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 5 Stars (out of 5) – I loved this short, poignant look at these two major events during World War II. This book was, in many ways, haunting. But I also love how it focuses on healing from big hurts on both sides of the War. I would recommend to anybody interested in World War II. Note: This is definitely not just for kids. I also think this would make for great classroom discussion.


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review / Wayside School #4

wayside-4Book: Wayside School: Beneath the Cloud of Doom (2020)
Author: Louis Sachar
Genre: MG, Humour
Rating: 4 stars

Basic plot: The students from Wayside School are back. And of course, they’re all the way up on the 30th floor in Mrs. Jewls’ class. Not only is there the Ultimate Test, but there’s a very scary Cloud of Doom that’s making everybody just a little testy.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The Author’s Note at the beginning made me smile. Louis Sachar reminisces about how he wrote the first book forty years ago and… well, I won’t spoil it here. You have to read it yourself.

2) I think everybody from the Wayside universe makes some sort of appearance. Except maybe Mrs. Gorf. (Thank goodness!) Yes, even that mysterious class on the 19th story. (Except, there is no 19th story.)

3) As I was reading about the Cloud of Doom, I couldn’t believe that Louis Sachar would have written this before the existence of COVID-19. I like the optimism that the book has.

4) One of my favourite stories/sequences involved Stephen and the gong. I love how he was mistakenly chosen. And then there’s the build-up to just… Breathe.

5) Another favourite story involves Jason and the book that 999 pages. I love how the librarian arranges her library and how Jason tries to out-do the other students, only to have to read the longest book in the history of the world.  (Not really, but 999 pages is a really long book!) And the outcomehow he comes to feel about the book—is one of the best moments for me!

6) This book made me want to start collection 1 million toe nails just like they do in Mrs. Jewls’ class. 😉

7) And of course, you can’t have a Wayside book without Louis the yard teacher. He doesn’t seem to be in the book as much as in previous books, but he does have that umbrella scene!

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I have mixed feelings about the ending of this book. In one way, I liked it. But, in another way, it wasn’t quite as satisfactory as I’d hoped. Maybe it was because I had a hard time trying to imagine the grey-goop they were supposed to eat. And when I did, I tried not to imagine it because it caused a gagging-reflex in me! I did feel glad for Miss Mush, though. Finally, she had something going for her at Wayside School.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I was very excited when I saw this book and put a hold on it way before the libraries closed. The book finally came in this past week! Yay! I tried not to read it too fast, but let myself enjoy the story. I’d definitely recommend this to anybody who loves Wayside School. Yes, it’s been forty years, but the kids and Mrs. Jewls and Louis the Yard Teacher are still the same.


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Picture Book Mini-Reviews #3

karate-kidsKarate Kids // by Holly Sterling
Release Date: May 5, 2020

This would be a perfect gift for any kid who is interested in taking karate! You can join the main character, Maya, and the rest of the karate kids as they go to their lesson. Illustrations are adorable! And I love the little author blurb at the end with a photo of Holly Sterling all decked out in her karate gear. [4 stars]



mars-first-friendsMars’ First Friends // by Susanna Leonard Hill
Release Date: June 1, 2020

What a fun story about the planets! I like how Pluto was brought in as the planetary-family pet. This story is all about Mars who wants a pet/friend of his own. He tries to play with his brothers and sisters, but they are all too busy.

The solution comes in a gift from his sister, Earth. You can probably guess it (I know I did), but it’s a nice way to introduce the space program and what’s currently happening. I also really liked all the information at the back of the book. [4 stars]



how-selfishHow Selfish! // by Clare Helen Wels and Olivier Tallec
Release Date: April 21, 2020

Cute story about a kid who doesn’t want to share anything. The fact that it features a human kid and a duck makes the story seem less didactic, which is good. I liked the little switch at the end (with the duck and the sword). And also the solution. Great story to help teach kids about sharing. [4 stars]


**Note: I received a free copy of these titles from the people at NetGalley in exchange for honest reviews.**

Review / Gold Rush Girl

gold-rush-girl

Book: Gold Rush Girl (2020)
Author: Avi
Genre: MG, Historical
Rating: 4 stars

Basic plot: Tory is determined not to be left behind when her father and brother set off to join the gold rush in San Francisco. Of course, things aren’t quite as “golden” once they arrive. Dad leaves the kids behind while he goes to strike it rich. Tory is supposed to watch Jacob, and when Jacob goes missing… it’s up to her to find him. With the help of some new friends, she’s determined to search high and low, even if it means searching every abandoned ship on Rotten Row.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) This book has a great opening line: “Have you ever been struck by lightning? I have.” Of course, she’s not talking about actual lightning, but more about being struck by gold rush fever. Clever way to get us into the story!

2) At first, I thought the style was a little old-fashioned, but then I realized this was done on purpose. All the literary references warmed my heart! From Mr. Poe to Mr. Benjamin Franklin! The “fine new publications such as Oliver Twist, Wuthering Heights, and Vanity Fair…” Not sure how young kids will read this, but I liked it.

3) I loved the character of Senor Rosales! I love how he believes Tory about her missing brother. And even makes them his priority. (I liked him better than the dad.)

4) An interesting historical setting is always a bonus for me! I particularly enjoyed the author’s note at the end about Rotten Row…

5) Thad and Sam make for some good friendships for Tory. The end of the book is rather open-ended which leaves room for some more adventures for these three!

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Gold Rush Girl, I expected a little more gold in the story. All the hunting for gold is done off-page. Instead, this book has a lot of ships…

2) I did find the middle of the book to drag a bit. However, it does pick up again when the brother goes missing.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I enjoyed this book. It reminded me a lot of Avi’s True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, which is another rollicking sea-adventure. I would definitely recommend for kids interested in history, especially the era of the gold rush. Note that the style of writing is a little old fashioned.

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


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Re-read / I Am David

i-am-davidI am David // by Anne Holm (1963)

This is the story of a boy who escapes a concentration camp and journeys through Europe in search of his long lost mother. As the book says, David is a strange child. He doesn’t understand the ways of living in freedom. He doesn’t know anything except the life of the concentration camp, and only what his friend and protector told him. But he a quick learner.

My favourite scenes are when he meets the family of Maria. It’s an exciting introduction as it involves a rescue from a burning building! And while I like Maria, the best part of this section, to my mind, involves Carlos. David actually meets up with Carlos earlier in the story, and it’s not a pretty meeting. So much so, David actually hates Carlos and compares him to them (i.e. the Soviet guards). David has such a fear of them (and rightly so!), that he cannot see any hope for Carlos. But this is the storyline where David grows the most.

I read this book for school when I was in the seventh grade. I don’t think I really understood it back then. Re-reading this book gave me a greater appreciation for this classic. One thing to note: Because it was written so many years ago (and also, originally, in Danish), the pace is slower than most modern books. [4.5 stars]


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review / As Simple as It Seems

as-simple-as-it-seemsBook: As Simple as It Seems (2010)
Author: Sarah Weeks
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 stars

Basic plot: Verbie (short for Verbena) is having a hard time. Her best friend, Annie, is suddenly no longer her friend. And then she learns a secret… about her parents and who they really are. This news is hard for Verbie, so when she meets the new neighbour boy, Pooch, she lets him think she’s the ghost of a girl who drowned years earlier.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I really felt for Verbie as she struggles with learning some of the facts regarding her parents. I believe Sarah Weeks did an excellent job making us empathize with her. I like how we learn, along with Verbie, about her past… little by little.

2) Pooch is such a good friend. (We’ll talk about his name later!)

3) To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of ghost stories. I almost put this book back at the  when I read that it was a “ghost” story. Sure, Verbie “pretends” to be a ghost (or rather, she doesn’t correct Pooch’s misconception), but it’s definitely NOT a ghost story!

4) I do like how the nightgown fits into the story. At first, I was wondering WHY it’s mentioned that she’s wearing a nightgown. But then, when we meet Pooch, it all comes together. No wonder he thinks Verbie’s a ghost!

5) A lot of excitement in this book. And some of it has to do with… nuts!

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Pooch’s name drove me batty. I mean, why would they call him “Pooch”? Especially considering it’s a nickname given to him by his mom’s old boyfriend (who’s no longer in the picture!) I wish Sarah Weeks had come up with a different backstory.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – Overall, I liked this book. Be prepared to go on an emotional journey, though!


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review / Shakespeare’s Spy

shakespeares-spyBook: Shakespeare’s Spy (2005)
Author: Gary Blackwood
Genre: MG, Historical
Rating: 3 stars

Basic plot: Widge is one of the theatre prentices at the Globe Theatre when young boys played the roles of characters like Juliet and Ophelia. He’s also Shakespeare’s scribe. When Shakespeare has a case of writer’s block, he gives a play to Widge, telling him that he can do with it as he pleases. Widge decides to try to finish the play! But, there are other problems. Good Queen Bess is dying and all theatre is canceled. And to make matters worse, there’s a spy among the players, but Shakespeare doesn’t know who it could be…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) This is the third book featuring Widge. I haven’t read the second book, but I have read the first book in the series⁠—The Shakespeare Stealer. I’m glad Widge gets a new name in this one!

2) I felt like we were in Elizabethan London! I enjoyed the setting. And I liked the history behind the book… like the death of Queen Elizabeth I. It happened at a time of plague. And then, the theatres are shut down! (Actually, this sounds like 2020, not 1603!)

3) I liked the relationship between Widge and the fatherly Mr. Pope. He’s more of a father to Widge than his real father. My favourite scene with Mr. Pope has to do with the return of Julia!

4) The mystery of the spy in Shakespeare’s troop is set up quite nicely. Although the resolution is a bit too quick for my tastes (see below).

5) Seeing William Shakespeare in action is fun! I like how he relies on Widge. And I like how his “rejected” play comes into the story. Gary Blackwood explains why he wrote these parts in this way in his author’s note at the end.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Julia shows up at the end of this book. She’s mentioned earlier, but everything about her feels like a backstory being told. It almost felt like she didn’t really belong in this story. And yet, she does. It just felt… awkward.

2) The whole thing about Shakespeare’s spy? It happens close to the end of the story. And it’s WAY too easily solved. It hardly took a chapter! I was disappointed in this part. I wanted at least a little danger of the characters being found out!

3) Why is Judith Shakespeare in this book again? First of all, her name is far too similar to Julia’s name. Secondly, nothing seems to come from her being in the story!

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – I would recommend this book to those interested in Shakespeare or theatre in general. Or for those who like historical fiction. Widge is a sympathetic character. The book doesn’t live up to its name, but it’s still good in its own way.


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review: The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue

vanderbeekers-rescueBook: The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue (2019)
Author: Karina Yan Glaser
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 3.5 stars

Basic plot: The excitement is great in the Vanderbeeker house. Mama has an interview and photoshoot for her home baking business. But disaster strikes when the inspector arrives at a time when only the kids are home. Needless to say, the inspection doesn’t go well and Mama is now in danger of losing her license. The kids are determined to make things better by scheduling a whole new inspection. Their goal is to pull this off without Mama and Papa ever suspecting a thing. But it isn’t helping that some mysterious person keeps leaving pets on the Vanderbeekers’ doorstep.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I’ll say it again. I love, love, love this big family of five kids. Can I just say that I want a tree house like they build for Oliver? (Although, how they manage to do this in NYC confuses me. I didn’t even know from the previous books that they even had a backyard.)

2) I like how the kids all band together to try to solve this problem. Even when their opinions don’t always mesh, they work through it!

3) I’m glad Herman Huxley is back. At first, I didn’t think he’d make an appearance, but then good ole Herman Huxley pops into the story! I wish Glaser had brought him in a little more.

4) [Minor **Spoiler] The idea of a cat cafe is such fun for kids and animal-lovers. Yes, there really are such places as these. Not sure I’d really want to go, but I know a lot of people who have gone to cafes like this and raved about the experience. (I’m not really a cat person.) [End Spoiler]

5) There’s a nice little mystery involved over WHO is leaving all the animals at the Vanderbeekers’ house. It definitely had me trying to figure it out.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The violin recital. What was the purpose of this? I’m not sure. It didn’t seem to add to the story. (Nor did it take anything away. It just seemed not all that necessary.)

2) The grown-up in me wanted to cringe at times. Especially with the inspector-business! The realism wasn’t quite there, but kids will probably enjoy it.

3) We need MORE Herman Huxley!

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – A fun book. Like I mentioned, I wasn’t keen on the fact that I didn’t find the whole premise to be super-realistic. But, kids probably won’t notice and will enjoy the freedom these children have as they run all over New York City!


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Newbery Verdict: The Whipping Boy

The Whipping Boy // by Sid Fleischman (1986)

TheWhippingBoyNewbery Winner (1987)
Genre: MG, Fantasy/Classic
Rating: 5 Stars

Basic Plot: When Prince Brat decides to run away, he takes Jemmy (his whipping boy) with him, only to be captured by two ruffians. Jemmy keeps his head and, in order to rescue the prince, arranges to swap places with him. But Prince Brat is so bratty and self-focused that he doesn’t catch onto Jemmy’s plan… which leads to complications and danger.

MY THOUGHTS…

Wow! Just, wow! I read this book in a single sitting and boy, was it powerful. I love Jemmy and his quick-witted brain. As for Prince Brat, I was ready to throttle him over the head several times. He truly is such a despicable character until… well, until he isn’t. I love his transformation!

The humour is spot-on. The chapter titles are fun. The character names are just perfect. It’s a simple story that is truly delightful. Really, I don’t often gush about a book, but I’m gushing about this one!

NEWBERY VERDICT…

This book won the Newbery back in 1987. Did it deserve it? Absolutely!

YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!


Newbery Verdict Reading Challenge: This is a personal challenge for me to read books that have either won the Newbery Medal or are a Newbery Honor book. The Newbery is named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. Since 1922, this annual award has given to the author of the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” A Newbery Honor book is given to the runners-up.

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review: Notorious

notoriousBook: Notorious (2020)
Author: Gordon Korman
Genre: MG, Contemporary/Mystery
Rating: 4 stars

Basic plot: Keenan goes to recuperate from tuberculosis at his dad’s house on an island that is split between the United States and Canada. That’s when he meets ZeeBee (who lives on the Canadian side). She’s obsessed with the history of prohibition-era smuggling. She’s also convinced that her beloved dog, Barney, was murdered. At first, Keenan doesn’t know what to think about her and her suspicions. But then he starts to think she’s on to something…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I loved the history about gangsters on the island! I’m not sure I’d want to be mixed up with real-life gangsters, but they’re fun to read about. And ZeeBee is a fount of knowledge.

(That said, from what I can tell, Centerlight Island isn’t a real place. There IS an island in the middle of the St. Clair River. However, Stag Island is a private island and belongs to Canada.)

2) Barney Two was adorable. This is the dog that ZeeBee’s parents get to replace the dead Barney. ZeeBee can’t stand him because he’s so different from her former pet. I do like how Barney Two works his way into the plot.

3) It was fun to see the little Canadian vs. American differences… including the name of the island. ZeeBee calls it Centrelight. Keenan calls it Centerlight. I do find it interesting that they both use the metric system for measuring, but that might be because Keenan was schooled overseas??

4) I liked how Keenan and ZeeBee’s friendship develops throughout the book. It was nice to see the ups and downs.

5) The mystery is also quite fun. There are enough clues to figure it out whodunit, but it’s not super obvious.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I will say I didn’t like the fact that I didn’t know what was true/untrue in this book… especially with regards to the island. There’s no author’s note to explain anything, so I found that a bit annoying. Especially since there is history involved in the story.

2) I do not understand why Barney (the first dog who’s dead) was even allowed to terrorize the island in the first place. Just the realist in my raising my hand.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – If you like Gordon Korman books, you’re in for a treat. I really enjoyed this one!


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday