Newbery Verdict: When You Trap a Tiger

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Book: When You Trap a Tiger (2020)
Author: Tae Keller
Publisher: Random House
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Newbery Winner (2021)

Opening Lines of the Book…
“I can turn invisible. It’s a superpower, or at least a secret power. But it’s not like in the movies, and I’m not a superhero, so don’t start thing that. Heroes are the stars who save the day. I justdisappear.”

MY THOUGHTS…

This book won the Newbery this year (2021). I was pretty excited when it was announced since I had the book sitting on my nightstand! I was ready to dive right in.

This is a story about a shy, quiet girl named Lily. She and her mother and sister come to live with their Korean grandmother (Halmoni). Halmoni has always had a special bond with the girls, regaling them with stories from Korean folklore about a tiger that walks around like a man. But Lily soon discovers that something’s wrong with her usually-so-vibrant Halmoni. She confides to Lily that she has stolen the stories and now the tiger wants them back. When Lily starts seeing the tiger, she knows she has to do something to trap it to save the life of her beloved grandmother.

Okay, first off, I like imagination in books. This book, however, crossed a line for my suspension of disbelief. I like the idea, but the tiger conversations bothered me. (Maybe it was my adult-brain kicking in!) I found Lily’s conversations with the tiger slightly worrisome. I know it was all metaphorical, and I liked that to a certain extent. I liked how it connected to the grandmother’s stories. And I even liked reading the stories the tiger tells (I found them very interesting). But the whole thing made me concerned for Lily’s mental health. Maybe it was supposed to be magical realism? If it was, it just felt off to me.

And yet, I loved how Lily and her new friend (the boy she meets at the library) work together to do something to try to help the grandmother (i.e. trapping the tiger). And how the whole grandmother plot unfolds is very compelling and engaging with some wonderful emotional beats.

So, what did I think about the book as a whole?

NEWBERY VERDICT…

Ultimately, I will say that I have mixed feelings about this book. I did like all the Korean folklore stories, but the parts about the tiger did bother me enough. (And I really did not like the sister.) While I liked this book, I didn’t love it. Now, I haven’t read all the Newbery contenders for the year, but I did read We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly. Personally, I would have voted for that book over this one.

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 / Counting Thyme

counting-thymeBook: Counting Thyme (2016)
Author: Melanie Conklin
Genre: MG, Contemporary

Basic plot: Thyme Owen’s little brother Val has cancer. What that means is that their family leaves their home in California to go to get him a special treatment in New York City. Thyme’s not keen on leaving behind her best friend Shani. So, she plans to save up the slips in her Thyme Jar (a little reward system used by her parents) so she can go home early to spend her birthday with Shani in March… just like they do every year. But things start to get complicated, especially when Thyme starts to make new friends. She even signs up to take part in the Spring Fling musical at school in… uh oh… March. And then there’s Val’s cancer treatments…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I enjoyed the relationship between Thyme and her little brother Val. And also the relationship (at times hard; at other times sisterly) with her sister Cori. And I do like that their names are all garden herbs… thanks Mom (i.e. Rosemary)! Thyme = well, Thyme; Cori = Coriander; and Val = Valerian. Okay, so I’m not super enamored with Val’s name. First, because valerian root is a sleep agent and that seems a little weird to me. Not sure what would have been a better name, though! But I do like the names for Thyme and Coriander.

2) One of the best characters is Mrs. Ravelli, the Italian woman who comes to help the family by cooking, cleaning, and walking Thyme to school. What a wonderful woman she is! I love how Thyme gives her the nickname (in a fond sense) of Ravioli. Because well, her name sounds a lot like it.

3) It’s hard to leave your home and friends behind. I love stories that deal with this. Conklin does a nice job with making this work for the story in just the right balance… the longing vs. the acceptance of a new situation. I like the fact that we get to see how the different family members deal with this.

4) The new friendships that develop in the story were nicely done. They took a few little turns I wasn’t quite expecting, which is good! 🙂

5) I almost wanted more interaction between Thyme and the neighbour-man who lives in the apartment below Thyme’s family. Mr. Lipinsky has a good deal of bite to him, but (of course) he turns out to be a bit of a softy at heart. And then there’s his bird, Sylvie.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I like the cover art, but… there is one thing that bothers me about it. If this is New York City, where are the fire escapes?! (That building is a death trap!)

2) There are a few moments where the conflict resolves a little too easily… just like that! *snap* I’m thinking particularly about a scene between the mom and the sister Cori. I was like… well, that was super easy. (If only life worked like that!)

FINAL THOUGHTS

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Love the New York City setting. Thyme is a likeable character. And who wouldn’t want Mrs. Ravioli to cook for them? *Highly recommended.


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

*Note #2: You may notice that I didn’t put a rating for this book. After reading this post by Krysta @ Pages Unbound, I’m rethinking my rating system. Basically, I find I don’t really review books I don’t recommend. And my ratings all tend to be the same anyhow. (Usually, I fluctuate between a 3-4 stars which mean I like the book!) I will probably continue to put ratings on my Goodreads account, because well, that’s how that website works. But for now, I’m planning to give my recommendation in the Final Thoughts.

Review / Mananaland

mananalandBook: Mananaland (2020)
Author: Pam Munoz Ryan
Genre: MG, Fantasy
Rating: 4.5 stars

Basic plot: Max’s dream is to play futbol like his Papa and his grandfather, Buelo. When he’s not allowed to join the other boys at the futbol clinic, he’s disappointed and starts to fear that he’s losing his best friend. But then he learns that Papa and Buelo have a secret. They’re Guardians, which mean they help on an underground railroad of sorts. And it turns out that this underground railroad might hold the key to the location of Max’s mother who disappeared when he was just a baby.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Max is a very sympathetic character. I felt for him when his father and grandfather seem to be overprotective. And when his friends seem to abandon him at the swimming hole? Ah, my heart went out to Max.

2) The mystery surrounding the mom was nicely set up. There were just enough hints and foreshadowing. And yes, the titleMananalandhas to do with the mom.

3) Buelo. Man, I love this guy! What a grandpa! (I love grandpas!) I loved his stories. And I loved how Max was so close to him.

4) I particularly loved how the book is divided into three sections: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. It was perfect for a book entitled Mananaland!

5) The most exciting part comes near the end with the underground railroad part… Basically, once Max meets Father Romero and Isadora. And, of course, Isadora’s not quite what Max expects. But I like the connection they eventually make with one another.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The only thing that confused me was whether or not this was a fantasy novel or realistic fiction. The soccer (futbol) and day-to-day events made it all seem like it takes place in our world. But at other moments, it’s clear that it’s some alternate universe. A slight thing, but one that did draw me out of the story at times…

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4.5 Stars (out of 5) – I really enjoyed this book! Don’t expect a super fast-paced story. That’s not the kind of book it is. The writing is beautiful. And I love how the title fits into the theme of hope that pervades the book.


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 Riddle of Ages

riddle-of-agesBook: Mysterious Benedict Society & the Riddle of Ages (2019)
Author: Trenton Lee Stewart
Genre: MG, Adventure
Rating: 4 stars

Basic plot: The Mysterious Benedict Society is back. The kids are older, and this time, they have a new recruit: five-year-old Tai. Their challenge is to break into the old institute-turned-prison to rescue Mr. Benedict and his criminal twin brother from certain death. But, with McCracken and the rest of the Ten Men close on their heels, it’s not going to be easy.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) What fun to be back with Reynie, Kate, Sticky, and Constance. Even though they are considerably older. (From what I can guess is that the three older ones are around 16 or 17; Constance would be around 7.)

2) Tai was a nice addition. I was quite skeptical about him at first, and at times he was a little “too cute”. But he fits in nicely with the plot, especially the part at the end. I think it was also good to get another kid into the story since the three older ones have grown up so much.

3) Lots of riddles and adventure in this one. I’m horrible at solving riddles, but I do enjoy seeing the Society figure them out. (Or should I say, Reynie is the one that always figures them out.)

4) Milligan has a nice little cameo. Probably one of my favourite parts of the story. I wish he was in it a little more, but I understand why he wasn’t.

5) One of my least favourite developments of this series has been Constance’s telepathic abilities. However, I didn’t actually mind it in this story. I felt it worked really well within the plot. And I will say, overall, I have really grown to like Constance as a character. Sure, she’s moody. But she’s interesting. And not quite as contrary as she is in the other books.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Little things didn’t pan out. [*Slight SPOILER] Like the mysterious letter ‘M’ that Tai talks about at the beginning of the book. I was WAITING for that to actually be something. It wasn’t. Or S.Q.’s big feet? I’m not sure why that kept be brought up when it didn’t do anything for the climax of the story. [End spoiler] Not a huge problem. Just a disappointment because it didn’t live up to my expectation.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I was excited when I first found out about the existence of this book about a year ago. BUT, I was also skeptical. However, I was pleasantly surprised. This book had all the fun worthy of a Mysterious Benedict Society book. The kids are older (and really, with the exception of Constance and Tai, no longer “kids”) but their characters remained true. And I liked how Stewart was able to bring together all the events of this book.


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

ARC Review / Coop Knows the Scoop

coop-knows-scoopBook: Coop Knows the Scoop (2020)
Author: Taryn Souders
Genre: MG, Mystery/Whodunit
Rating: 4 stars

Basic plot: When the local playground gets a make-over, the workers dig up a skeleton. Pretty exciting stuff for the sleepy town of Windy Bottom, Georgia. Coop and his friends are particularly interested in using their detective brains to discover what actually happened. Of course, it’s not easy when your nemesis⁠—i.e. the class bully⁠—is on your case. But then Coop discovers that the murder victim just might be somebody closer to him than he realized.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Coop’s mom owns a bookstore in their small town. Can I just say how much I love this? (Actually, who doesn’t love a good book store setting!)

2) This book starts off with immediate action and interest with the digging up of the skeleton. And then the details roll in⁠—like the fact that the skeleton is wearing a dress⁠—that keeps us wanting to read more.

3) I love Coop’s Gramps. “Gramps had a third rule: You can’t leave a bad situation without finding two good things about it. Two things to be thankful for.” He isn’t perfect (you’ll find that out in the book), but he has so much wisdom. I love it when grandfathers like Gramps are in books!

4) I enjoyed Coop’s friends, the twins named Liberty and Justice. The three kids make a good team. And they get into plenty of mischief, including [*slight SPOILER] a break-in to the funeral parlour. [End Spoiler]

5) There are some nice upping-the-ante moments. Especially with regards to Coop’s nemesis, Beau (the bully). There’s a moment in the story when the boys discuss their mutual agreement to not get along. I love Coop’s interior monologue at this point: “That was the first thing we’d ever agreed on in our lives.”

6) I did like the character, Tick, who is a father-figure for Coop. He’s also a police officer, so things get a little awkward when Coop starts breaking a few laws.

7) This book is a whodunit. There is a nice little reference to the Hardy Boys (although, personally, I think that could have been a stronger thread in the book). Coop and his friends are trying to find a murderer. So, yeah, one of the characters in the story IS indeed a murderer. I will say that I was kept guessing… which is good for a murder-mystery. (I did figure it out just slightly before the kids do in the book.)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The one thing that bothered me—and I have seen this in a lot of books lately—is the fact that there are a lot of unique names in the book. Coop is fine (his full name is Cooper) since he’s the protagonist. And Beau’s fine, since that’s a real name. But then there were Liberty and Justice, the twins. I couldn’t remember who was the girl and who was the boy. This is not particularly helpful to the reader, especially when it takes you out of the book.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I can’t think of many middle-grade books that deal with murder (like a real murder). This book actually does, which makes it a little on the edgy side of MG. I would recommend it for older kids who like mysteries… and are ready for something beyond your Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew variety. These are the kids who will one day devour the likes of books by Agatha Christie, et al.

**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

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