Review: It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel

Aint-So-Awful-FalafelBook: It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel (2016)
Author: Firoozeh Dumas
Genre: MG, Near Historical [1970s]
Rating: 4 stars

Basic plot: Cindy’s family comes from Iran. Her real name is Zomorod, but she thinks she’d rather be called “Cindy” as she attempts to navigate middle school life in the U.S. But it’s the 1970s and things over in Iran aren’t going well. When news of the Iran Hostage Crisis hits, suddenly her dad loses his job and people are telling her to go back home to Iran. What can she and her family do?

WHAT’S COOL…

1) This is a very relaxed book in many ways. It’s set in the late 1970s and there’s a lot of nostalgia here. It does take some time to get to the hostage crisis.

2) The relationship between Cindy and Brock is nicely developed. As her friend Carolyn points out, you can tell they “like” each other, but I’m glad it’s just kept at the mutual-crush stage. I really don’t like it when middle-grade books put in some kissing scene, and I’m happy this book doesn’t go there. It just remains sweet and awkward and… well, sweet.

3) The friendship between the girls is lovely! Even when others are telling her family to go home, the girls (Carolyn, Rachel, and Dewey) stick by Cindy. The Halloween scenes are especially fun.

4) The parents are hilarious. I love the bit about the mom and how she’s always trying to force-feed everybody. Like with Skip and the grape-leaves. And the father is a really good dad. I just love his support of his daughter.

5) The theme of kindness is much needed in our world today. I love how she quotes from A Streetcar Named Desire (about the kindness of strangers)… and that’s true when it comes to characters like Skip (one of my favourites! He’s also the guy who speaks the words of the book’s title…) But really it’s more the kindness of friends that help Cindy and her family out.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I found the book a little long. We don’t get to the hostage part until over half-way through the book. It actually sat on my night table for quite a while before I decided to read it, and I think that may have been because of the page count.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I loved Cindy/Zomorod. She was a likable character. And reading this book was definitely meant to feature her character. I loved the historical setting and learned a lot about Iranian customs.


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: All of Me

all-of-meBook: All of Me (2019)
Author: Chris Baron
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 stars

Basic plot: Ari has to deal with bullies who make fun of his weight. He can’t help being hungry all the time, can he? But, when he reaches a point of self-harm, his mother finally steps in. He’s going on a diet! It’s hard, but Ari perseveres. But he still has struggles with his dad leaving, his friend Lisa not answering his calls, and his mother not really understanding him. On top of it all, he’s working toward his bar mitzvah. Little by little, Ari grows to accept who he is, while at the same time accepting that he can’t change everything.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I was really rooting for Ari in this book. I thought his struggles with his weight were realistic. I like that we get to see the process of a transformation. Not that he becomes the skinny kid, but he becomes the person he wants to be.

2) I’m so glad Ari has friends in the story. He still has to deal with the teasing and such, but it’s not like he’s completely alone. But, I’m also glad that those friendships aren’t depicted as perfect. Like the friendship with Lisa. And even the part where Pick abandons him on the bike path to hide.

3) The calls with Gretchen were cute! I was expecting a little surprise there that didn’t quite happen, but I still enjoyed this part of the story.

4) One of my favourite parts is when the diet book “drowns”. Very clever way to deal with that part of the story.

5) I loved the Rabbi! Yes, he was a great addition to the cast of adults. I loved how he just talked to Ari, encouraged and helped him.

6) The book was written in blank verse. I thought it worked pretty well in this book.

7) Loved the ending when Ari goes back to school and sees his old bullies for the first time since school got out for the summer.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) While I liked the camping part, I had a hard time believing the parents would let their kids go on that trip alone. Overnight. By themselves.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I would highly recommend this book. Not all people share Ari’s problem, but everybody has something about them that they don’t like. In this book, Ari does some serious soul-searching. And I really like that it ends on a very positive note!


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: Roll

rollBook: Roll (2017)
Author: Darcy Miller
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 3.5 stars

Basic plot: Ren and his family have moved out of town to his grandma’s old farmhouse in the country. Under his dad’s guidance, he’s in training to run cross-country. During one early morning run, he meets Sutton, the (new) girl next door, and discovers that she’s training Birmingham Roller Pigeons. As Ren tries to find his footing (how to relate to the best friend he left behind, how to improve his run times, etc), he also finds himself drawn to Sutton and her pigeons. Now, if only he can get the courage to tell his dad that he doesn’t want to be a great athlete.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The Birmingham Roller Pigeons were pretty cool. Had to look them up on youtube because I have never heard of this before.

2) I like the friendship that develops between Sutton and Ren, especially how they bond over the pigeons. And with the pigeons!

3) I enjoyed Ren’s voice in this book. I liked his nerdiness and how his narration showed that part of him.

4) The comic book thread was a fun aspect of the book. Ren is obsessed with old British comics, ones I’m not familiar with. But sure enough, when I looked them up online, I find that they do indeed exist. (I like how Ren and Sutton watch the old Adam West Batman show!)

5) I also liked how the whole cross-country running thing turned out. Ren’s dad is a runner and Ren expects that he needs to be a runner as well. And even though he tries, Sutton sees the truth. Ren just doesn’t quite LOVE running the way his dad does.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I had a hard time envisioning how Sutton was “training” her pigeons. I got how they flew, but what was she doing to actually “train” them?

2) Ren’s real name is Lauren, which he tells us (right away) that he hates. (I don’t blame him.) Then why does he introduce himself to several people as Lauren? Why not just say that his name is Ren. This did not make sense to me.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – I liked the book. The bit about the roller pigeons was pretty fascinating. Who knew that actually existed!


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: Mo Wren, Lost and Found

mo-wren-2Book: Mo Wren, Lost and Found (2011)
Author: Tricia Springstubb
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 3.5 stars

Basic plot: Mo Wren and her family are moving away from Fox Street. Her dad wants to start his own restaurant. Mo feels more lost than found in this whole new neighbourhood, while Dottie seems to have no trouble at all in fitting in. But when their dad has difficulty securing a loan, Mo’s new “friends” at the laundromat step in and get things rolling.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I really enjoyed the sisterly bond between Mo and Dottie. I like the one scene where Dottie just takes off and Mo’s like: “Fine! Go. I don’t care.” But then she goes off to find her because she is her sister after all. I really loved how that fits in later on in the book with Carmella.

2) Da! Man, I love this old lady. (I’m a sucker for books about kids making friends with old people!) I was really scared that the author was going to kill her off, especially when Mo’s dad gets a “certain phone call”. But, fortunately, that didn’t happen. (Not sure why this old lady is called “Da”, but she is.)

3) At the beginning, there’s a nice little bit about how Mo’s dad chooses a poorer family to buy their old house instead of selling it to the rich people. I loved how that comes back into the story in a way that helps Mr. Wren out.

4) The theme of moving and moving on was knit into the fabric of this story. I loved how the different threads all came together. I’ve had to move from homes and neighbourhoods I’ve loved dearly, so I really did identify well with this part of the story. I think Tricia Springstubb was able to capture the bittersweetness of this topic very well.

5) The part featuring Handsome (the lizard) was quite cute. I like how Dottie chooses a lizard for a pet!

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) This did have a slow start for me. I wasn’t really invested in the story until later in the book.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – This is actually the second book about Mo Wren. I have never read the first, but that didn’t seem to matter too much. Although, perhaps that accounts for the slow start for me. Hmmm. This book would be good for fans of the Penderwicks!


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 Mystery of Black Hollow Lane

mystery-black-hollow-laneBook: The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane (2019)
Author: Julia Nobel
Genre: MG, Mystery
Rating: 4 stars

Basic plot: Emmy gets sent over to England to attend a boarding school while her mother travels for work. But before she leaves, Emmy discovers a mysterious box and note. It all has something to do with the death of her father, something that Mom refuses to discuss. At the new school, Emmy makes friends with two outcasts… she also makes plenty of enemies. Not to mention the fact that the mystery of her father remains out of her grasp until it’s might be too late. That’s when Emmy discovers a secret that might just lead to her own demise.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Boarding schools! What is it about the magic of boarding schools. I’m not sure I’d actually want to live at one, but I sure like to read about them. Not to mention there are secret passages and underground lairs.

2) Emmy outcast friends are the kind of friends I’d love to have. Jack and Lola really do have her back. They make quite a team.

3) I liked the little twist about who Emmy could and could not trust. I thought it was set up nicely.

4) I liked the bit about the priest. It was a nice memorable scene. I suspected something, but it turned out to be a little different than I thought.

5) The door is left open for a sequel, but it is a stand-alone novel.

6) The cover of the novel fits in very well with the style and “flavour” of this book.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I thought Julia Nobel missed an opportunity with the different words “soccer” vs. “football”. In the book, Emmy’s American mom makes her promises not to play soccer. I was convinced she’d somehow get past this by saying she was playing “football” not “soccer”. But, that didn’t happen. Not a huge deal…

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – If you like dark secrets and mysteries, then this is the book for you! Emmy’s a likeable protagonist along with her new friends at the school. And she’s up against some shady dealings.


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: Sunny Rolls the Dice

sunny-rolls-diceBook: Sunny Rolls the Dice (2019)
Author: Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm
Genre: MG, Near Historical/Graphic Novel [1970s]
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic Plot: This is the third book in the Sunny series! Sunny is a middle-schooler in the late 1970s and she’s all about checking her Groovy-meter. How groovy is Sunny? Well… not very. She and her friend join the neighbourhood boys in learning to play D&D. But when her friend loses interest in the game, now Sunny isn’t sure if she should continue either.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I was glad to return to the world of Sunny with this book.

2) I like Sunny’s friendship with Deb and how things start to change between them. It’s good to talk about peer pressure; and I like how Sunny learns that friends don’t have to do everything together.

3) I’ve never really played D&D before (Dungeons and Dragons), so I did find that interesting. Although, it doesn’t seem like a game I would obsess about. I will say that the cover did confuse me, but once you understand the D&D connection, it makes more sense.

4) The nostalgia of the 1970s is definitely one of the best parts of this book.

5) I love it when Gramps shows up! I just wish he was in it more. (Him and Dale!)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Sunny’s older brother Dale is missing from the plot of this story. (Note: He does make an appearance in this book, but it’s very peripheral.) While I’m glad for his sake, I think the conflict he brings to the other stories is what makes them a tiny bit better than this one.

FINAL THOUGHTS…

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – I liked this book almost as much as I’ve liked the other books in the series. It’s lacking something. Maybe it’s the struggle and conflict that was always there in the form of the Dale plot line. Still a good read, even if just for the “groovy meter”.


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: Planet Earth is Blue

planet-earth-blueBook: Planet Earth is Blue (2019)
Author: Nicole Panteleakos
Genre: MG, Near Historical [1986]
Rating: 4.5 stars

Basic plot: Nova is autistic and pretty much nonverbal. She loves all things “space” and is excited about the upcoming launch of the 1986 Challenger Space Shuttle. She knows that older sister Bridget promised to watch it with her, and Bridget is the one person in Nova’s world that is always there for her.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) So, I love near historical novels… Not surprised that this one (that takes place in 1986) interested me. Of course, knowing that this book is centered around the Challenger was bittersweet. I loved how the author was able to incorporate that into the story. (One of the scenes that takes place prior to the launch is the incident where Nova is playing with her toy astronauts in the attic.)

2) The relationship between Nova and her sister Bridget is told mostly from Nova’s “letters” to Bridget. This is a very clever way to give us Nova’s thoughts when she rarely speaks in the story. It was also a great way to get to know (and love) Bridget the way Nova knew (and loved) her.

3) I loved Nova’s foster family. (The one she’s with, not the ones from her past.) It’s nice to see a family that knows how to work with Nova and accept her for a person. Both parents are great, and so is Joanie the college-aged daughter.

4) All the pop-culture references were spot on with their thematic significance, even ones that don’t seem to be at first. (I’m looking at you, Bridge to Terabithia poster!) I wasn’t too familiar with David Bowie’s song Space Oddity (which is quoted from extensively in the book, even lending a lyric to the title of the book!), but the other references were fun throwbacks to childhood in the 1980s.

5) I do like the cover. Nicely done. 🙂

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I did NOT like how she did the Neil Armstrong quote in the book: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” In 1986, we did NOT use the word “a”, and nobody I knew ever made fun of Armstrong for saying it that way. Of course, it does make more sense with the “a”, but if we want to be historical, Nova would not have known the quote with the “a”. That really, truly bothered me!!!! (Okay, I’m calm again. Rant over.)

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4.5 Stars (out of 5) – I know it’s written for kids, but this is the type of book that may be more interesting to the adult reader. That said, I really did enjoy it. It does have some sadness in it, so be warned (but if you know what happens to the Challenger, you should already know that).


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 Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Book: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (1972)
Author: Barbara Robinson
Genre: MG, Classic
Rating: 5 stars

best-christmas-pageant-everBasic plot: Every year, the Christmas pageant is pretty much the same… that is, until the Herdmans decide they’re going to be a part of it. And once the Herdman kids decide on something, well… there’s no other way. (At least, not if you value your life.)

WHAT’S COOL…

1) This book is short and sweet, but it’s just right! All the characters are fleshed out. It’s wonderfully written. In some ways, it reminds me of Beverly Cleary’s books (which makes sense since she was writing at the same time.)

2) I love how the bullies of the story (i.e. the Herdmans) have a nice little arc. They don’t become fully angelic or anything, but the Christmas pageant does have an effect on them. Especially how the Christmas story (one they were unfamiliar with) makes them more human to the other children.

3) The humour in this book is great! I like how the narrator is able to capture all the little quirks of all the characters, like Alice who makes snide little comments throughout the performance all because she really wanted to Mary instead of Imogene Herdman. One of my favourite lines is when Mother (the director) says: “We’ve never once gone through the whole thing… I don’t know what’s going to happen. It may be the first Christmas pageant in history where Joseph and the Wise Men get ina fights, and Mary runs away with the baby.” That perfect encapsulates the whole book!

4) The ham… If you’ve read the book, you know what a mean. But the ham (for me) shows that those Herdman kids have potential after all.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Nothing. (Although, some might find the book a bit dated. It was published in 1972, but that never bothers me.)

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 5 Stars (out of 5) – I’ve seen this book around for ages, but I’ve never read it until this year! What was I waiting for? It’s funny and sweet. I’d definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a fun Christmas 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

Books About Photography + Giveaway

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As a photographer, I’m always interested in reading about other photographers. So, this week’s post is a list of books about photography.

**NOTE ABOUT GIVEAWAY** I do have a giveaway with this post! For details, see the bottom of the page.


Hot Cocoa Hearts // by Suzanne Nelson

hot-cocoa-heartsMG, Contemporary (2015)

Ever since the death of her grandmother, Emery Mason has become a scrooge about Christmas. Problem is, Em’s family runs the Santa booth at the mall where she has to play the role of an elf. And then there’s Alex who runs the hot chocolate stand. He’s going to make it his goal to try to change her mind.

Photography Connection: Em loves to take photos with her mom’s old camera. She captures images at the mall to show the “unhappiness” that comes along with the Christmas season: crying children, unhappy babies, tired out old ladies. But in true Hallmark-fashion, by the end of the book, that all changes! [3 stars]


The Pompeii Disaster // by Dan Gutman

pompeii-disasterMG, Contemporary/Time Travel (2018)

Note: This book is technically the third book in a series. The Flashback Four are a group of kids that time travel to various important events in history to… get this… take a photograph of said event. This book’s focus: Pompeii. And as you can probably guess, things won’t go smoothly with a volcano about to erupt.

Photography Connection: Of all the books on my list, this is probably the least photography-ish. Yes, the kids have to take a picture of the historical event, but that’s about it. But, I’ve included it in my list because it is kind of neat to think of having a photograph of Mount Vesuvius about to bury the city of Pompeii in ash. Wow, just wow! [3 stars]


Counting on Grace // by Elizabeth Wintrop

counting-on-graceMG, Historical – 1910 (2006)

When Grace gets yanked out of school to go work in the mill, her teacher is furious. How will these children ever get an education, especially when Grace is one of her best students… What’s this? Grace is one of the best students in the whole school? Suddenly, Grace wants to learn. She wants to be a teacher herself, but it won’t happen if she must work in the cotton mills for the rest of her life.

Photography Connection: This story is a fictional account of those haunting cotton mill photos taken by Lewis Hine in the early 20th century. About half-way through the book, Mr. Hines shows up at the mill with his camera to photograph Grace and the other children who work at the mill. The book also includes a scene where he shows Grace how he develops his glass slides! [4.5 stars]


Northern Exposures // by Eric Walters

northern-exposuresMG, Contemporary (2001)

This was a fun story about a boy who wins a photography contest by mistake! The prize? Photography the polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba. And because he’s not really a photographer, he has some madcap adventures. Not to mention, the other people in his group are a bunch of senior citizens! I enjoyed learning about polar bears and getting a little geography/history lesson (which I see as fun!) about Churchill. Plus, as a photographer, I would have loved to be on this trip with Kevin and all the senior citizens!

Photography Connection: The photography contest… Oh, and because the book was first published in 2001, I loved all the film-talk… digital photography wasn’t really a thing back then! So, it definitely brought me back to the days when I first started taking serious photos with my SLR camera. [3.5 stars]


Half a Chance // by Cynthia Lord

half-a-chanceMG, Contemporary (2014)

Lucy is the daughter of a professional photographer who is judging a competition for children photographers. She decides to covertly enter the contest. She enlists the help of the kid next door, Nate. This book also has a connection to loons and loon-watching. I loved that aspect of the book, as well as the plot that revolved around Nate’s grandmother (who suffers from dementia).

Photography Connection: I really liked the photography treasure hunt! My favourite shot was the one they take up on the mountain. I like how the competition turns out (won’t spoil it!). I felt that it was fairly realistic and also satisfying. [4.5 stars]


YOUR TURN…

Have you read any of these books? Are there other books that feature photography you would recommend? Let me know in the comments!

**GIVEAWAY!**

Since this is a photography book and I’m a photographer, I’m giving away one of my 2020 Photography Calendars… **ENTER GIVEAWAY HERE**.

Note: Entries must have a valid U.S. or Canadian address. If, for some reason, you cannot use the form below, leave me a comment in the comment section below.

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

Review: Broken Strings

Book: Broken Strings (2019)
Author: Eric Walters and Kathy Kacer
Genre: MG, Near Historical (2002)
Rating: 3 stars

broken-stringsBasic plot: Shirli Berman has been cast in the musical, Fiddler on the Roof… although not quite in the role she’d hoped for (Hodel). She gets to be an old Jewish mama (Golde); and as she goes to her Jewish grandfather to help give her inspiration for the role, she begins to uncover his own history… something he never talked about. Until now.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The musical, Fiddler on the Roof, was one of the musicals I was a part of in high school. Although, I didn’t get such a plum role as Golde! So, I did enjoy attending the rehearsals with Shirli and all her friends.

2) I loved the relationship between Shirli and her grandfather, Zayde. Every day (or close to it), she brings him groceries and they have tea and talk. Shirli even brings Ben (Tevye in the musical).

3) I found it interesting that the setting is New Jersey in 2002, about six months after 9/11 happened. Of course, the book makes a bunch of connections with that event.

4) The historical connection with the Holocaust and the musicians who played at Auschwitz was something I haven’t come across before. I love it when history comes into books like this. Of course, this one is a very sad and heartbreaking connection.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) [*Spoiler here] When their teacher is in an accident, Zayde comes forward to take her place until production. I wasn’t convinced by this plot point. First, he’s directing a musical he’s never seen before; and he’s avoided ALL musicals and the like for the past 50 years?? I would have preferred one of the kids to step up. Maybe Mindi, Shirli’s rival for Hodel…  [End Spoiler]

2) I wasn’t crazy about the puppy-love story between [*Spoiler] Shirli and Ben. I thought it was kind of unnecessary. And it was a tad predictable. [End Spoiler]

3) Why would ANYbody be unhappy to get the role of Golde is beyond me. (I could understand if she got the understudy.)

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – I enjoyed this one. I’d recommend for any theatre enthusiasts, as well as those who have an interest in the history of the Holocaust.


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