Review / Beyond the Bright Sea

20210402ma_0843-copyBook: Beyond the Bright Sea (2017)
Author: Lauren Wolk
Genre: MG, Mystery/Historical Fiction

Opening lines from the book …
My name is Crow. When I was a baby, someone tucked me into an old boat and pushed me out to sea. I washed up on a tiny island, like a seed riding the tide.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) Crow is such an interesting main character. At the age of 12, she becomes curious about where she came from and goes about trying to solve the mystery. She writes letters. She visits islands. She even does some of this without any adult supervision.

2) Which brings me to the adults in her life: Osh and Miss Maggie. I love these two characters. They have such love and support for Crow. Osh is like her dad, while Miss Maggie is her teacher. Every child needs an Osh and Miss Maggie!

3) This book has treasure hunts, nearly-desert islands, and mystery galore!

4) It’s fun to piece together the clues as the mystery begins to sort itself out. More clues are added and we finally get our answers. Or most of our answers.

5) I was fascinated by the history behind this story, especially of Penikese Island which housed a leper colony until 1921. How the locals treat Crow (thinking she might have leprosy) was heartbreaking to read about. Since the hospital is closed by the time the story takes place, we only get to “see” the empty buildings, etc. And most of our information (in the book) comes through the letters that Crow receives from the nurse.

6) That book cover is beautiful!

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) When I went back, I finally found the page that lets us know when the story takes place. It’s 1925. But I missed this information (probably because it was on its own page, in small print, and looked like a dedication page) when I first read it. Therefore, I wasn’t sure if this was a historical book or a fantasy? I think the name Crow made me think it was some sort of magical realism. But then, none of those elements came into play! I just wish they had put the “1925” on the same page as the first chapter.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I really enjoyed this book. It’s a mystery with elements of the historical and adventure novels. I highly recommend it!

(P.S. Thank you to Rosi Hollinbeck for this book! I won it a gazillion years ago as a giveaway. And finally, I got down to reading it. It’s been sitting on my TBR pile forever!)

 


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: Merci Suárez Changes Gears

20210522ma_1155Book: Merci Suárez Changes Gears (2018)
Author: Meg Medina
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Newbery Winner (2019)

Opening Lines of the Book…
To think, only yesterday I was in chancletas, sipping lemonade and watching my twin cousins run through the sprinkler in the yard. Now, I’m here in Mr. Patchett’s class, sweating in my polyester school blazer and waiting for this torture to be over.

MY THOUGHTS…

Merci Suárez is having trouble at school. She doesn’t want to be a Sunshine Buddy to some new boy from Minnesota. And she has to deal the Queen Bee of her class, Edna. Merci struggles with being ostracized but eventually finds her own tribe. One of the best scenes has to do with a mummy, Edna, and a pair of scissors. (Totally reminded me of a very memorable happening in a movie my sister and I loved as children: The Trouble with Angels (1966). If you know the movie, you will know what I’m talking about!)

And then there’s trouble at home. Lolo, Merci’s beloved grandfather, is acting weird… forgetful. He refuses to come to Grands’ Day at school, and poor Merci has no clue why. Of course, as an adult, we can deduce that it’s some form of dementia. (No surprise when it turns out to be Alzheimer’s Disease; although, this IS a surprise to Merci.) I did love her connection to Lolo. There’s one particularly scary moment when Merci can’t find her grandfather on the beach but does find one of his shoes lying in the sand! Ay-ay-ay!

What I didn’t get is WHY the family thought it a good idea to keep the diagnosis from Merci. It’s not like she couldn’t see that her grandfather was acting weird. (I didn’t quite buy that part of the book.)

I also loved Merci’s big extended family. She lives in one of three little houses with her own family, her grandparents, and her aunt and twin cousins. I did like her older brother, Roli. He’s super-smart but also a super-slow-driving brother. As he learns to drive, it’s his job to get them to school. But Merci always seems to be late because Roli drives like an old man!

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

NEWBERY VERDICT…

I’ve been meaning to read this book since it won the Newbery back in 2019. I’ve taken it out of the library on at least 2-3 separate occasions only to return it before I could actually read it. But finally, I was able to get to this book. And I’m glad I did. Now, I’m looking forward to reading the next Merci Suárez adventure!

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

Newbery Verdict: When You Trap a Tiger

20210218ma_0325

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

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: Arcady’s Goal

archadys-goalBook: Arcady’s Goal (2014)
Author: Eugene Yelchin
Genre: MG, Historical
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic plot: Arcady lives in an orphanage where his only hope lies in soccer and being the best. When Arcady is adopted by Ivan Ivanych, his new “father” starts coaching him and a bunch of other children for his soccer team… that is until the other fathers kick Ivan Ivanych off the team. Ivan Ivanych takes Arcady to get a letter to try out for the Red Army youth team. The problem lies in the fact that Arcady’s parents were declared “enemies of the state.”  Now it’s up to them to find a way to make Arcady’s goal…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Arcady is so hopeful in this! Always seeing the bright side of things. Which is interesting since the setting is the Soviet Union. Arcady could have been bitter about his parents being taken away, but he isn’t. As a trusting kid, he just accepts this happened and focuses on soccer.

2) Yelchin does a good job showing the confusion and betrayals that was the era of the Soviet Union. Arcady’s encounters a lot of things that should make him question what’s happening in his home country.

3) The story was a little slow in places. But it picked up for me with the re-introduction of a boy (Freckles) from Arcady’s soccer team. It was around this time that some of the other elements hinted at also became clearer.

4) I liked the little twist with Fireball, the guy in charge of getting Arcady a letter to try out for the Red Army youth team.

5) I do like the hopefulness that this story gives us. There’s was not a lot of hope in the Soviet Union during this time. But I like how this ending, although it is ambiguous, doesn’t end in despair.

6) One of my favourite lines is when Arcady asks (*SPOILER) Ivan Ivanych’s real name (End Spoiler). I thought that was a nice touch. Even if his new dad doesn’t give him the answer.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I didn’t like this book as much as Breaking Stalin’s Nose. (That book was a masterpiece! Which is why it got a Newbery Honor.) Maybe it was the slowness of this book? I’m not sure. I wasn’t as drawn to Arcady as I was to Sasha.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – Kids who enjoy soccer will like this book. I like that the setting is the Soviet Union and applaud Yelchin for bringing to life a time period in history that isn’t often written about.


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: Louisiana’s Way Home

Louisianas-Way-HomeLouisiana’s Way Home // by Kate DiCamillo
Release Date: October 2, 2018
Genre: MG, Historical (1970s)
My Rating: 4 Stars

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

Basic Plot:Granny wakes Louisiana up in the middle of the night, and they set off on a journey to rid themselves of the family curse. But Louisiana soon discovers that there’s more to her history than she realized. Suddenly, she finds herself left to her own devices in a small town in Georgia. And all she really wants is to find her way home again.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Louisiana’s voice as narrator is amazing! I love how she uses big words (because her grandmother uses big words). And she talks non-stop… but in a very pleasing way. (Kind of like Anne of Green Gables. And comparing Louisiana to Anne is probably the highest praise I can give!)

2) There are some great scenes… varying from the delightfully comedic (involving driving and dentists) to more serious moments (involving funerals and fainting). And then there’s the cast of quirky characters: The Burke Allens (all 3 of them), Miss Lulu (who can’t quite play the organ), and the walrus-like Reverend Obertask, just to name a few.

3) My suspicions about Louisiana’s family are confirmed in this book. (Something I suspected back in the first book.) This, of course, is revealed just at the right spots in the plot.

4) I love Betty Allen (Burke’s mom) and her cakes. I drew a big breath of relief when she and Reverend Obertask finally figure out a few things.

5) This story really is heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time. DiCamillo hits all the right emotional chords just at the right moment. The ending brought tears to my eyes.

6) This is one book where I actually enjoyed the “sequel” more than the original. I liked the first book very much, but there’s something about Louisiana that is very compelling and endearing. She makes for a wonderful narrator and protagonist.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Some of the adults drove me crazy!! I wish they would take one look at Louisiana and realize that something is not right with her situation. (But I also understand that this is kind of important for plot reasons, so it not a major criticism.)

FINAL THOUGHTS
My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – For me, 4-stars means I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s worth the read just to hear Louisiana’s voice tell her story. She’s definitely a protagonist you will want to root for.

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?

WHAT’S COOL…

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]

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

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.

FINAL THOUGHTS

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.

Only Orphans Allowed

20170824ma_4716Have you ever wondered why so many kids’ books feature orphans?

Anne Shirley, Mary Lennox, Oliver Twist, Frodo Baggins, Peter Pan, Cinderella, Dorothy Gale, Huckleberry Finn, Pollyanna, Pippi Longstocking, Paddington Bear, the Baudelaire orphans, Harry Potter… and the list goes on.

Or, if the characters aren’t exactly orphans, the parents are somehow (conveniently) off-screen. Like how the Pevensie children are sent out of London before they find their way into Narnia. Or the Bastable children seeking treasure on Lewisham Road in order to help their father who is busy with his business woes. Or how Artemis Fowl’s mother is ill and depressed, while his father is MIA in Russia.

For the author, the first order of business… Get rid of the parents. I used to think this was an unfair trick of so many books. Why did authors do it? Did they really have to make the world so void of parents?

Then one day, I stumbled upon the answer. I read a book where the author must have wondered the same thing. This author had put a “Helpful Dad” type of character into the story. You know the type. The Ward Cleaver. The Pa Ingalls. The kind of dad every kid should have in their lives.

Here’s a brief outline of the story. Kid moves to New Neighbourhood with Loving and Devoted Parents. You know Parents are loving and devoted because of how they interact with Kid. Then Kid somehow notices something fishy going on in a nearby graveyard. He confides in Dad. Great Father/Son interaction. (That’s how it’s supposed to be in real life. Yay for Dad!) Now, Dad understands the call to adventure. He walks with Kid to graveyard. “I’ll watch from over here just in case you need help,” says Dad, ever the understanding type. Kid feels so secure and happy that Dad is so understanding. Kid walks into graveyard alone, while Dad stands by. Then, WHAM! Somehow Kid is sucked into another world… leaving Dad behind.

Okay, so first of all, even this author also realized that he needed to get rid of Helpful Dad at this point in the story.

I don’t know what you thought when you were reading my little outline, but I can tell you my thought process when I was reading the book. As the dad was walking with the kid to the graveyard, I wanted to scream out, “Stop! This is isn’t right. If Helpful Dad is along on the adventure, how can Kid do anything???” Then as Helpful Dad stepped back and let Kid go into the graveyard alone, I wanted to scream, “Wait a minute, Dad. What kind of father are you?! How can you let your kid go in there alone!”

There was no helping it. I was fed up with the story. And actually, to be honest, I never did finish the book.

But this glimpse gave me my answer for why so many books feature orphans. It’s because we really don’t want irresponsible parents. But we also don’t want parents to get in the way of the protagonist’s journey. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a good grownup in the story. They can be available for advice, but we don’t want a smothering helicopter.

In real life, we want and need loving parents. In fiction, sometimes it’s best to kill those parents off.

Or at least send them on a long trip.