#IMWAYR (It’s Monday What Are You Reading?) Nov. 30/20

This weekend I participated in the #stayhomereadmore reading marathon hosted by the #LitReviewCrew, and I found out about it via Alexis Ennis (@Mrs_Bookdragon). It was great to connect with old friends and see what they were reading, meet new readers and, of course, naturally add to my TBR/Options pile. I was not as hardcore as others in terms of my tracking, but it did get my butt in gear to finish up some books I had been neglecting and to get ahead on my Canadian Shining Willow picture book nominee stack.

Last Week

Double the Danger and Zero Zucchini by Betsy Uhrig. Reluctant reader Alex has been asked to help his aunt review a book she has written. It is incredibly dull, so Alex and his friends are providing suggestions with the help of a ghostwriter. A delightful debut and had me chuckling out loud with some of the antics the trio of friends found themselves in as they worked together to improve the book. A definite purchase for classrooms and libraries and would make for an engaging read-aloud. I appreciated the super short chapters to balance what some readers may find intimidating with the length.

The Icebound Land by John Flanagan. The third book in the Ranger’s Apprentice series has two focuses; one on Will and Evelyn as prisoners of the Skandians, and Halt and Horace, who are attempting to find and rescue the pair. This is one of my favourites of the series as we see other sides to the main and supporting characters, and is a bit darker than the previous two books.

Seven Clues to Home by Gae Polisner and Nora Raleigh Baskin: Told from two perspectives and in two timelines, readers meet Lukas and Joy two best friends who love math, puzzles and scavenger hunts. Every year on their birthdays only two days apart, they create a scavenger hunt for one another. This year Joy is still trying to get over the death of Lukas that happened on her birthday. She finally decides to begin the scavenger hunt she never started on the day he died. When it is Lukas’s perspective, we are back in time, seeing the preparation of the clues to the scavenger hunt leading up to the cause of his death. I LOVED this story and am shocked that there has not been more buzz about this book and will write more later.

The Calm and Cozy Book of Sleep: Rest +Dream + Live by Beth Wyatt. This was an informative quick read on ways to improve your sleep. Chapters included setting up your bedroom environment to settling down and waking up routines. Although I do not have trouble sleeping, I found this book engaging and picked up a few pointers for myself.

Up Next

Picture Books and Nonfiction Books: As always, I have a stack to savour in between reading and listening to novels.

Peril at Owl Park (Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen #2) by Marthe Jocelyn. Going into one of my favourite genres of reading, some mysteries. I enjoyed the first Aggie Morton (The Body Under the Attic) so I am looking forward to reading a Christmas themed murder. 

I have two adult books on the go…

A Promised Land by Barack Obama and narrated by the author. Delving into an adult book – I enjoyed Michelle Obama’s Becoming so much I thought I would listen to his memoir as well. This is a lengthy but captivating read, but it will be one that I pop in and out of as other books from my library become available.

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May. As suggested by Kathie, this book looks to fit in nicely for my post tomorrow. Just started, Ms. May has a strong writing voice, and I look forward to the journey she is going to share with me.

Down the Road

Many audiobooks on hold from my public library, including the elusive Royal Rangers #4 The Missing Prince, by John Flanagan. So, whatever shows up will be what I start. In the meantime, my print books will be of a mystery theme – Premidated Myrtle Elizabeth Bunce and then the recently indie purchase The Amelia Six by Kristin L. Gray.

I want to acknowledge the two that started this all. It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? has changed from becoming a meme for adults to the sharing of children’s lit. This idea to include #kidlit came from Unleashing Reader blogger Kellee Moye and Jen Vincent, from the Teach Mentor Texts, blog. They thought there should be a children’s lit focus too, and hence a version for #kidlit began! So every Monday, join in on the fun by sharing what you just finished reading, currently are reading, or are anticipating reading. Use the hashtag #IMWAYR on your social media sites to share, follow what others are reading and to show support for #kidlit bloggers by reading and commenting.

Happy reading!

Laurie

November 2020 Reading Recap

By Kathie

I finished November on a high note, completing the debut reading project I set for myself this month. It was grateful for the #stayhomereadmore readathon this past weekend, which gave me over 13 hours of reading time to devote to it. I also I didn’t know about my impending work layoff at the start of the month, so having a project to work on helped give me a focus with the unexpected free time, and kept me from buying any new books.

POSTS

Here are links to the posts I published this month:

STATS

I read 17 books in November for a total of 194 this year. Of those titles, 12 were 2021 debut authors (71%), 6 were ownvoices stories (35%), and only 2 were by Canadian authors (12%). I read 6 physical books.

FAVORITES

My favorite reads of the month were The Fabulous Zed Watson! by Basil Sylvester & Kevin Sylvester, Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston, The Last Windwitch by Jennifer Adam, and Thanks A Lot, Universe by Chad Lucas.

NEXT MONTH

I have a couple of seasonal-themed books I’d like to read, and I also have a number of eARC approvals to continue working through. I’m excited at the prospect of another readathon at the end of December, but will make sure to pick a wider variety of genres and book lengths for the next one.

12 favorite middle grade books from 2020

I will never put out a “best” book list, because I don’t believe there is such a thing. Reading is about personal preference; what I enjoy reading may not be what you enjoy, and that’s totally fine. My favorite reads have always been ones with which I connect emotionally. Sometimes, I’m draw to the relationships between characters. Other times, I learn something new and find my perspective broadened. And sometimes I’m drawn into a story that transports me to another world for a little while and I feel like I’ve escaped my ordinary life.

The 12 books on this list are my personal favorites from 2020. I chose not to describe why I loved each one because some aspects of my reading journey are my own, but I wanted to share the titles with you.

Favourite Finds for Everyone

November

It was hard to narrow the list down to ten books; I was fortunate to read so many stellar picture books this past month. There are just so many fabulous picture books! As promised, I will highlight some Canadian books today. So here they are in alphabetical order.

A Stopwatch from Grampa: by Loretta Garbutt, illustrated by Carmen Mok,
Kids Can Press 2020

A little boy who has lost his grandfather goes through the stages of grieving after losing his grandfather and receives his stopwatch to keep his memories with him. Dealing with the loss of a loved one with children is not an easy topic. A Stopwatch from Grandpa does it with sensitivity in the word choice and the illustrations that match the emotions of the child. I also appreciated the fact that the character was gender-neutral, so all children can see themselves, relate and connect to the child in the story.

Bobby Orr and the Hand-Me-Down Skates: by Bobby Orr & Kara Kootstra, illustrated by Jennifer Phelan, Penguin Random House

Author Bobby Orr takes us on a trip down memory lane, remembering when he wished for a brand new pair of skates only to receive hand-me-downs. It is a connection that we all have experienced; wishing for something and being disappointed when it doesn’t happen. Despite the disappointment, Bobby ends up loving his hand-me-downs and when he does get new skates, what happens to his second-hand skates? Illustrations make the story come alive, and those who live with winter will appreciate the outdoor scenes and descriptive writing. A book that not just hockey fans will enjoy and perhaps give other readers a trip down memory lane.

The Bug Girl: by Sophia Spencer & Margaret McNamara, illustrated by Kerascoët,
Penguin Random House

A story about following your passions no matter what others say and being true to yourself. As a small child, Sophie discovered a love of bugs. When Sophie started school, her friends were supportive, but as she grew older, she was teased and bullied so much that she put her interest in bugs on hold. The fact that a nine-year-old has written the book is powerful, and know young readers will be surprised and empowered by this fact. I liked the fact that she discovered other things she was passionate about and still returned to her bugs. A reminder to all of us, follow our passions and not worry about the opinions of others.

Find Fergus: by Mike Boldt, Doubleday Books for Young Readers

Fergus the Bear is trying to play hide and seek with the reader, except Fergus is not very good at it. Sometimes you need a book that makes you feel good, and this one made me laugh out loud. The illustrations, like the main idea, are fun and playful. Readers will enjoy making predictions about what Fergus will do to try to hide. I know this will be an engaging and fun read-aloud.

The Girl with the Cat: by Beverly Brenna, illustrated by Brooke Kerrigan, Red Deer Press

A young girl named Caroline, new to town, and lonely visits the local art gallery and discovers a bronze sculpture of a girl (Nina) in a rocking chair with a cat (Sammy) on her lap. The sculpture becomes almost like a friend, with Caroline speaking to it on her weekly visits. On one visitation, a sign on Nina and Sammy states it is going to move soon. Caroline is distraught and determined to keep the bronze display. With Caroline’s letter writing and advocacy, the people of the city help her, and the sculpture remains in the gallery. Biased, as this is a true story where I live, so I have connections and am familiar with the art piece. That said, you don’t need to be from Saskatoon to celebrate the descriptive writing, the soft illustrations, the feeling of loneliness, and the power one voice can have to make a difference.

The One with the Scraggly Beard: by Elizabeth Withey, illustrated by Lynn Scurfield,
Orca Book Publishers

A little boy sees a man who appears to be homeless and questions his mother about it. Scenes that are common in cities and perhaps for many awkward to discuss with children, finally we are beginning to see books to help with these conversations. I appreciated that Ms. Withey used her experiences to share how she showed readers the many ways the boy and the man had things in common, showing readers that we are more similar than we are different and how everyone has their own path. The illustrations are not what one might expect as they are very colourful, with a few that have darker tones, for example, where the man is sleeping under the bridge. A compassionate and realistic situation, we need more stories like this one and available in classrooms and libraries.

The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story: by Thao Lam, Owlkids Books

This wordless book depicts the story of a Vietnamese family fleeing from their country due to war. A side-by-side story has ants experiencing the same events and emotions. When the family exits, they become separated, and the mother and child follow ants to the ocean. From this point, we only see the horrific journey the ants take and the suffering they endure. Once the surviving ants reach the shore, they start to build a new colony, and we see them once again in the home of the family members who survived. Like the ants, they too are making their way in the new city with other cultures that exist. The collage illustrations and sparse colour palette add to the turmoil and emotions. A book that will make readers think and ask questions.

Terry Fox and Me: by Mary Beth Leatherdal, illustrated by Milan Pavlović,
Penguin Random House

Terry Fox is a national hero, and many books have shared their story, none from the point of view of his best friend Doug Alward. From Doug’s perspective, we get to know a different side of Terry – as he was growing up, wanting to play basketball and being short, and how the two individuals not only became friends but how they pushed one another to do their best. The story takes us to the start of the Marathon of Hope, and the back matter includes more information about running and the Marathon itself. Another book that educators and readers will request, especially in September.

Two Drops of Brown in a Cloud of White by Saumiya Balasubramaniam, illustrated by Eva Campbell, Groundwood Books

A mother and daughter are returning home from school, the mother missing the warmth of the country she calls home and the daughter reminding her of the beauty of what now is home. The bright illustrations show the beauty of living in a place with a lot of snow – the wintry setting is offset with reds and blues that sparkle and delight. Allowing the little girl to show her mother how to appreciate winter and where home is now is empowering.

When We Are Kind: by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Nicole Neidhardt, Orca Books

Using single sentences, Ms. Gray Smith delivers a powerful message and reminder to its readers. The book begins with Ms. Smith sharing a variety of ways how we can be kind one to one another, including ourselves, then transitions into how we feel when others are kind to us and ourselves. I love how Ms. Gray Smith includes elders, the earth and ourselves as ways we can be kind but also how we feel when kindness is reciprocated.  

There you have it – a variety of some of the picture books from my month of reading. I hope you found some new titles to enjoy. 

Laurie

Amari and the Night Brothers

Author: B.B. Alston

Publisher: Balzer & Bray

Release Date: January 19/21

Reviewer: Kathie

Thank you to Edelweiss+ and the publisher for an eARC of this book.

The cover of Amari and the Night Brothers is one of my favorites for 2021 so far, and was the first thing that drew me to this book. The second was all the positive buzz I’d heard about it, all of which is deserved. I admit that the 416 page length put me off reading it for a while, but I quickly found myself engaged in the story.

Amari’s brother, Quinton, has been missing, but no one knows what’s happened to him. When she finds a briefcase he left for her in his closet, she discovers that the summer camp he used to attend was a cover for his training at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, and he’s nominated her to try out for a spot there, too. Amari desperately wants to find her brother, but first she has to discover what he was working on, and who might be holding him. She’s thrown into a world of magic, and must compete against other kids who know much more than her in three separate tryouts. On top of that, she has high expectations placed on her, and discovers her supernatural ability is one that’s illegal and makes her even more unpopular. She has to figure out who she can trust, how to get classified information, and battle her own insecurities to save her brother, all while an evil magician is trying to destroy the whole supernatural world.

This high-action story reminded me a lot of Harry Potter, with a main character suddenly thrown into a magical world where many felt she didn’t belong, and with great things expected of her. I loved watching mentors and friends support Amari while she grew in confidence and ability, and the unexpected twists kept me wondering what was coming next. I really loved seeing a female Black character develop her own power, and despite its length, I will definitely by purchasing it to add to my library’s collection.

This is the author’s debut novel, but I’m so glad this is the start of a new series. The second book is slated for release in 2022, with the third following in 2023.

Recommended: Gr. 5-8

Nourishing and Noteworthy

November


In my first Noteworthy and Nourishing post, I talked about Melissa Stewart’s five nonfiction classifications. I continue to learn and grow as a nonfiction reader and added an asterisk non-category of what Melissa Stewart called Informational Fiction (you can read more here). It is a reminder for me to differentiate between Ms. Stewart’s 5 Kinds of Nonfiction and Informational Fiction, which is not nonfiction. We need to be clear, letting readers know that there are parts of these books that are fictional and therefore are NOT nonfiction.

Below are the five genre types that Ms. Stewart created with a brief description so you can ponder my category choices of the books shared. 

  • Traditional: what we typically think of nonfiction: writing/prose that explains, describes and informs the reader – mainly text with illustrations or photos alongside. (Think: True Book series and author Seymour Simon books)
  • Browseable Nonfiction: writing that has short amounts of text in a block- like layouts with illustrations. (Think: Guinness World Record Books)
  • Narrative Nonfiction: tells a true story or experience, has a setting and real characters, a central theme and usually follows a short story structure (rising action, climax and resolution). (Think: Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla)
  • Expository Literature: well researched, engaging design, art and layouts with rich language and a particular text structure (Think: Jess Keating’s World of Weird Animal series, Pink is for Blobfish, Cute as an Axolotl)
  • Active Nonfiction: the result of the maker movement writing that teaches skills and has readers engage in an activity or activities. (Think: Cookbooks and How to Books)
  • *Informational Fiction: Books that provide nonfiction information using fiction to present that information. Methods may include invented dialogue and/or imagined scenes or use made-up characters, animals or inanimate objects as narrators (pseudo-narrator). 

Based on the true story of Nagasaki atomic bomb survivor Sachiko, we learn the history of her grandmother’s bowl and how it came to be a symbol of peace. A moving recount of the after-effects of the Nagasaki bombing and how the survival of Sachiko’s grandmother’s bowl offered hope and connections to family members lost.  A Bowl Full of Peace is another much-needed addition of books to share in November for Remembrance Day.

Curricular Connections: English Language Arts, Social Studies, Health

Nonfiction CategoryNarrative Literature – tells a true story or experience, has a setting and real characters, a central theme and usually follows a short story structure (rising action, climax and resolution).

Hall-of-Famer Elgin Baylor changes the game of basketball not only on the court with his athletic prowess but off the court by standing up for equality. I am not a big basketball fan but appreciated learning more about Elgin Baylor’s journey and the social justice story off the court. The illustrations by Frank Morrison are riveting and capture the grace and athletic ability of Baylor. This book received the Orbis Picture Book Award for 2020.

Curricular Connections: English Language Arts, Social Studies, Physical Education

Nonfiction CategoryNarrative Literature – tells a true story or experience, has a setting and real characters, a central theme and usually follows a short story structure (rising action, climax and resolution).

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team
by Christina Soontornvat

A meticulously researched book detailing the people and the events that led to the successful rescue of the Thai Boy’s Soccer Team. What stands out for me as a reader was the focus on the many Thai individuals that made the success possible. The way Ms. Soontornvat weaved background information allows readers to gain a deeper understanding of the complexity of the rescue.  For more detail please read my earlier post on this phenomenal book

Curricular Connections: English Language Arts, Life Sciences, Social Studies, Health

Nonfiction CategoryExpository Literature – well researched, engaging layout with a variety of photos and captions.

I love April Pulley Sayre’s photographing skills and marvel at the photos she captures. In her latest book, she answers the question, what is it like to be a frog, with an insight of someone who spends time with them, as noted in the back matter. Rich in vocabulary yet sparse in length, Being Frog allows the reader to see life as a frog. A beautiful book that brought back happy childhood memories of catching and releasing leopard frogs and will spark new readers to see frogs in a new way. 

Curricular Connections: English Language Arts, Life Sciences, and Social Studies, Arts Education

Nonfiction CategoryExpository Literature –  engaging layout with unique and stunning photos along with rich vocabulary with poetic phrasing

What a unique hands-on way to engage readers to learn about an insect people know by name but know little or very little about them beyond the differences between a butterfly and a moth. Readers learn facts about moths, lifecycle and characteristics along with step by step instructions about how to attract moths for a closer inspection.  You’re Invited to a Moth Ball, would be a great story and evening activity as a family or as a kid get together.  

Curricular Connections: English Language Arts and Life Sciences

Nonfiction CategoryActive NonFiction & Expository Literature– provides the steps to take to study moths at night while including information about moths, with an engaging layout with a variety of photos and captions.

#IMWAYR (It’s Monday What Are You Reading) November 23/20

Not a very productive reading week, Kaizer was on his second week living with the cone and also had a lot of appointments with my mom, so that took away reading time. I did manage to get my Willow nominee books read and listen to the second book in the Ranger’s Apprentice series. I am enjoying revisiting the series in a different format.

Last Week

Genius Jolene by Sara Cassidy, illustrations by Charlene Chua: One of the appealing factors of this book is that the setting of the story is inside a truck. Jolene’s dad is a truck driver, and Jolene is spending time with him on the road. The story shares their adventures and that every year on their trips, they decide to rate different foods, this year being onion rings. Jolene’s parents have divorced because her dad came out as gay, and the parents have an amicable relationship. The focus is not necessarily on Jolene’s father’s relationship, but they do encounter an individual who states that it is horrible and a sin. 

Burning Bridge by John Flannagan, narrated by John Keating: Book 2 in the Ranger Apprentice series, has Will, Horace and Gilan on a special mission for the Ranger Corps, travelling to Celtica, a neighbouring town to Araluen. They discover that all the villagers have vanished, and Gilan suspects Morgrath has devised a faster way to go through the mountain pass. Gilan rides off to warn King Duncan and his army, leaving Will and Horace to follow the Wargals. Along the way, they encounter a young girl Evanlyn, who claims to be a maid to a lady of the Araluen court but is the Princess herself. As they continue to follow the Wargals, they discover that Morgrath has built a bridge that the three must destroy with a cliffhanger ending. An enjoyable series, anew listening to them.

Up Next

Skyhunter by Marie Lu narrated by Natalie Naudus: I have had some trouble focusing on this one, so may come back to it another time.

Double the Danger and Zero Zucchini by Betsy Uhrig: I am continuing to enjoy this book but having trouble finding time to sit down and read. My focus has been tough – not the book, but for me. Hoping this week will allow me some time to enjoy. Reluctant reader Alex has been asked to help his aunt review a book she has written. It is incredibly dull, so Alex and his friends are providing suggestions with the help of a ghostwriter. Funny and a mystery to solve – a welcome combo.

Picture Books and Nonfiction Books: Scouring the piles to decide what to highlight for this week’s Favourite Finds for Everyone and Nourishing and Noteworthy posts. There were a lot of great books read this week and, I am grateful to the digital titles also available from my public library.

A Promised Land by Barack Obama and narrated by the author. Delving into an adult book that arrived from my local library. I enjoyed Michelle Obama’s Becoming so much I thought I would listen to his memoir as well.

Down the Road

Royal Rangers #4 The Missing Prince by John Flanagan: well, I have moved up in the queue for this book but still waiting.  I think that I will probably get others books before this one, so we will see.

I want to acknowledge the two that started this all. It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? has changed from becoming a meme for adults to the sharing of children’s lit. This idea to include #kidlit came from Unleashing Reader blogger Kellee Moye and Jen Vincent, from the Teach Mentor Texts, blog. They thought there should be a children’s lit focus too, and hence a version for #kidlit began! So every Monday, join in on the fun by sharing what you just finished reading, currently are reading, or are anticipating reading. Use the hashtag #IMWAYR on your social media sites to share, follow what others are reading and to show support for #kidlit bloggers by reading and commenting.

Happy reading!

Laurie

12 middle grade books from 2020 for all kinds of readers (Debut Edition)

This week, I’m sharing 12 books by 2020 debut authors that I read, enjoyed, and would recommend for middle grade readers in a wide variety of genres. I’ll also give you a heads up on the authors that have new books coming in 2021.

If you like funny books, try...

My Life As A Potato by Arianne Costner. It’s hard to tickle my funny bone, but this story about Ben’s secret life as the school’s basketball team potato mascot (after he caused the accident that sidelined its former occupant) was hilarious. Ben reluctantly took on the role, but keeping it a secret was harder than he expected. This is a great book for sports fans, but there’s a lot of middle school stuff going on like popularity and changing friendships that will appeal to young readers. The author’s next book, Confessions of a Class Clown, is scheduled for release on March 2, 2021.

If you like mysteries, try

The Stitchers by Lorien Lawrence. This is the first book in a series that’s a delightfully creepy mystery. No one knows how long The Oldies have lived on Goodie Lane but their strange behaviors (such frequently bandaged body parts) and the fact that they never seem to get any older seem very strange. When Quinn’s dad dies, their shared interest in The Oldies fades away…until one of The Oldies starts running extremely fast and has a very familiar marking on his leg. As Quinn and her neighbor, Mike, begin to investigate, they find a link to an old pond and a tragedy from many years ago. But The Oldies are on to them, and they have no desire to give up their secrets

If you like books about sports, try…

Kenzie Kickstarts a Team by Kit Rosewater, illustrated by Sophie Escabasse. This highly illustrated story with a competitive roller derby theme will appeal to sports lovers, but is also a book about friendship, teamwork, compromise, finding your people, and resilience. Kenzie and her friend Shelly have dreamed of being old enough to join a roller derby team, but the junior league requires them to have a five person team. As they try to convince three other girls to join them and prepare for their first bout, the friendship dynamics become complicated, and Kenzie realizes she might have feelings for one of her teammates. The second book in the series, Shelly Struggles to Shine, came out in September and Tomoko Takes The Lead is scheduled for release in June 2021.

If you like books about contemporary social issues, try…

Efren Divided by Ernesto Cisneros. This powerful story highlights what it’s like for a young boy to live his undocumented Mexican parents in the United States. Efrén’s family life is turned upside down when his mother is deported. His father is working incredibly long hours to find the money to help get her back, and Efrén is left in charge of his younger siblings and managing the household. He’s overwhelmed, worried, doesn’t know who he can trust, and experiences an emotional roller coaster as different attempts are made to get Ama back to them. There is so much to learn about American politics and how it affect individuals that live there. Stay tune for more information about the author’s upcoming 2021 release.

If you like realistic stories with a touch of magic, try…

The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez by Adrianna Cuevas. I loved the mix of real life and magic in this story. Nestor struggles with being the new kid; his dad is in the military and their family has moved several times. His dad is currently deployed in Afghanistan and they are living with his abuela in Texas. He feels disconnected from his dad, and wishes that he could be more involved in his life. But there’s another side to life in this small town, and it has to do with the woods and what’s happening to all the animals that have disappeared. Nestor can’t help but wonder if his rumors about his abuela being involved are true, or if there’s a witch whose power is growing stronger. The author’s next book, Cuba In My Pocket, is scheduled for release on September 21, 2021.

If you like books about siblings, try

What Stars Are Made Of by Sarah Allen. Libby’s sister, Nonny, announces that she’s pregnant, but she and her husband are having financial trouble. Nonny moves back home while her husband is working out of state, and Libby is so excited to have her around. But Libby has Turner’s Syndrome, which affects her body and mind, and she often worries about the whether or not the baby will be healthy. She makes a deal with the universe to try and keep the baby safe, and in the process starts to experience more of the world around her. The author’s next middle grade novel, Breathing Underwater, comes out on March 30, 2021.

If you like books with a focus on food, try…

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks. Yes, this is a story about Zoe, who wants to be on the Food Network Kids Bake Challenge, makes delicious-sounding cupcakes, and has a chance to intern at a bakery that leaves her disappointed. But it’s also the story of a girl who accidentally discovers a letter that her biological dad, Marcus, wrote to her from prison (where he’s incarcerated for murder). She starts a secret relationship with him, and desperately needs to figure out if he really committed the crime of which he’s accused, which leads to a mystery that made this book hard to put down. The author’s next book, A Soft Place to Land is scheduled for release in September 2021.

If you like books inspired by classic stories, try…

Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch by Julie Abe. This heartwarming story was inspired by Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadano. Eva was late to get her magical gift, and when it showed up, she got just a touch of magic. Despite doubts from many around her that she is worthy of being called a witch, she’s determined to fight to keep what magic she does have, and gain her status as a Novice witch. When she arrives in the coastal town of Auteri, the townspeople are disappointed that she’s not an experienced witch that’s come to help them prepare for an enormous magical storm scheduled to arrive in approximately 6 months. But Eva believes there must be something she can do to be useful to the town, sets up a shop for semi-magical fixes, and hopes the magic she does have will be enough. The sequel to this book, Eva Evergreen And The Cursed Witch is scheduled for release in 2021.

If you like scary books, try…

Hide and Seeker by Daka Hermon. Here’s a story whose cover creeped me out so much I almost didn’t pick it up, but the story is even creepier! A game of hide-and-seek takes a terrifying turn when Justin and his friends break the rules while playing at Zee’s homecoming party. Soon after, they disappear into a world of nightmares where they face their greatest fears, and from which there is no return. There is no place to hide from The Seeker, but Justin and his friends have some tricks up their sleeves and some valuable information that might save them from an eternity of losing the game.

If you like books with mental health representation, try…

How To Make Friends With The Sea by Tanya Guerrero. This was one of my favorite reads of 2020 because of the great anxiety representation. Pablo has moved many times; he and his mom currently live in the Philippines but he doesn’t feel like he belongs anywhere. Not only does he have trouble making friends, but he has a number of fears (such as germs, dirt, the ocean), some of which he keeps hidden from his mother because she is so busy with her work. Against Pablo’s wishes, she decides to foster an orphan girl named Chiqui. Pablo quickly becomes very attached to Chiqui and also befriends Happy, the girl next door, when she offers to help him with Chiqui (who only understand Tagalog and won’t speak). As the story progresses, Pablo realizes that what he thought was his biggest fear, the ocean, might be easier to face than the possibility of losing Chiqui. The author’s upcoming release, All You Knead is Love, comes out in March 2021.

If you like fantasy books, try…

The Circus of Stolen Dreams by Lorelei Savaryn. This beautiful fantasy grabbed hold of my heart and hung out throughout the story. Andrea’s younger brother, Francis, disappeared from his bedroom in the middle of the night three years ago, and her family has no idea what happened to him. When her parents decide it’s time to donate his things to charity, Andrea takes off distressed, and find a magical circus called Reverie in an abandoned field. The price is admission is to give up one memory, which Andrea readily does, as she blames herself for Francis’ disappearance and wants to forget the night he disappeared. But losing this memory has many repercussions, and though the allure of the wondrous tents full of magic and adventure are fun at first, Andrea quickly realizes there is a dark side to the circus and its creator, The Sandman. Andrea soon realizes she is trapped and unable to leave Reverie, and has no idea if she’ll ever be able to find her way home.

If you like outdoor adventure stories, try…

96 Miles by J.L. Esplin. Here’s a fast paced story that has adventure, mystery, high stakes, and unexpected surprises. John and Stew are at home alone when a power outage affects their area. Days pass, and their father still doesn’t return. Although they are well-prepared for disasters, they are robbed of their supplies and realize they need to get help…and fast. Their only option seems to be a trek of 96 miles to the home of friends who might be able to help them. Along the way, they meet both friends and enemies who are also trying to survive, and come face to face with the desperate things people will do in times of crisis.

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team

Author: Christina Soontornvat

Publisher: Candlewick

Release Date: October 13/20

Page Length: 288 pages

Reviewer: Laurie

As the world followed the news and the planning involved with the rescue of the 13 members of the Thailand Wild Boar Jr. soccer team, I also breathed a sigh of relief. I was thrilled when I heard that Christina Soontornvat would tell the story of the rescue in the form of a book that would be published later. I was not familiar with Ms. Soontornvat’s work at the time when I heard the announcement that she would share the story, but I felt reassured knowing it would have an #ownvoices author. 

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team is a detailed account of what happened from the time the team entered the cave to the celebration and their recovery once rescued. It is worth reading not only the author’s note but the acknowledgements as well, to appreciate the time, energy and dedication to write this book, highlighting the efforts of everyone that assisted but also placing the spotlight on the people of Thailand.

For those unfamiliar with the events that unfolded, on June 23, the Wild Boar Jr. soccer team decided to explore the most famous cave Tham Kuang Nang Non- the cave of The Sleeping Lady after their soccer practice. Twelve boys ranging in age from 11- 16, with assistant coach Ekkapol Chantawong biked to the cavern and entered, planning to leave by five to be on time to celebrate a teammate’s birthday at his home. It wasn’t until July 10 when the last of the 13 left the cave along with the remaining divers.

Although this book is about the boys, their coach and the rescue, Ms. Sootornvat intertwines factual information seamlessly as the story begins, progresses and concludes that allows the reader to have a deeper understanding of the complexity of the rescue and Thailand itself. For example, to understand how the water flooded the cave so quickly, readers learn about the weather, in particular details about what happens during the monsoon season. Then there is the composition of the mountain and the cave itself. Sensory details, diagrams and photos give the reader a clear picture of what it would be like to be in Tham Kuang Nang Non and what is happening when it begins to flood.

Ms. Soontornvat carefully crafts this factual information building our background knowledge allowing the reader to understand the “why” behind what is happening without overwhelming the reader. The text features, such as the maps and charts, act as handy references enabling the reader to review or clarify the impact of what is happening at specific stages of the rescue.

The collaboration and ingenuity displayed by the many Thailand volunteers were there from start to finish. From ensuring there was food for the family and rescue team, getting kids to make sure the masks would fit the team members, to using whatever materials available to divert the water away from the cave all contributed to a successful rescue and just a few examples.

One truly can feel the passion that Ms. Soontornvat felt when she wrote this book and the pride she has for the people of Thailand and the country itself. She has taken the time to let readers not only experience the rescue but to get to know the people, the land and the culture of Thailand. Readers know that although the rescue was through the aid of many countries, the people of Thailand played a vital role. 

I learned so many things, all the intricate details that made the extraction so challenging, and know when I read it again and I will learn something new. I think this was a labour of love for Ms. Soontornvat and provided readers a model for meticulous research and an incredible gift of the power of story.

OTHER BOOKS BY THIS AUTHOR: A Wish in the Dark, Snow Place Like Home (Diary of an Ice Princess #1)  and The Blunders: A Counting Catastrophe! 

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: Gr. 4+

The Fabulous Zed Watson

Authors: Basil Sylvester and Kevin Sylvester

Publisher: HarperCollins

Release Date: January 26/21

Reviewer: Kathie

Thank you to the authors for sending me an ARC of this book to review.

This was my most anticipated read of 2021, and it exceeded my expectations. I first heard about it last year at NerdCampMI, when Kevin shared that he was writing a middle grade fiction book with his child, Basil. It was the same time that I learned Kevin’s picture book, Gargantua Jr., had a lot more depth than I realized because the main character’s gender was never discussed yet I had attributed one to them without realizing it. I was eager to read The Fabulous Zed Watson and see the world through the eyes of a nonbinary tween, not only for the perspective, but with the hope of expanding my own knowledge about the idea of gender. I was pleasantly surprised that the story did that, and also treated me to a funny, entertaining, and uplifting mystery about a road trip quest to discover the whereabouts of a long lost book.

Zed is part of an online fandom for The Monster’s Castle, a manuscript written by H.K. Taylor that was buried several years ago by the author when he was told the world was not ready for his book’s storylines. Zed and the other fandom members are left to try and crack the code of the poem left behind, unsure if the manuscript even truly exists, but full of hope that it’s waiting to be found. When a discussion leads to a breakthrough, Zed desperately wants to take a road trip to follow the clues and look for it. They team up with their neighbor, Gabe, and his sister, Sam, on her return trip to college to head off on their quest. Although the trip is far from easy with three very different personalities in a small space, the trio not only learn to accept each other’s idiosyncrasies but have a lot of fun (and SO much ice cream!) along the way. They discover they are on the right track, and have interesting experiences at each of their stops as they start to put together clues to the location of their final destination. But they discover they are not the only ones searching for the manuscript, and it becomes a race to see who can find the book first.

My favorite thing about this story was how positive and fun it was to read. I was expecting an “issues” book which often come across as heavy and serious, but this was a joy-filled adventure that still communicated who Zed is and what they experience. Zed has a big personality but Gabe accepts them and tries to understand them rather than judging them. Gabe struggles with having interests that aren’t accepted by everyone around him, but Zed provides support and respect for his interests. It’s a story about friendship, but also about identity and acceptance.

There are so few ownvoices middle grade stories with nonbinary characters, so I sincerely hope this book will make its way into as many classrooms, libraries, and homes as possible. Although this is Basil’s debut, Kevin has a wide range of books for kids all ages. My personal favorite is the science fiction MiNRS series, but his latest is a humorous chapter book series called Hockey Super Six about a team of hockey players with special powers. Both The Puck Drops Here and On Thin Ice are available now in Canada from Scholastic.

Recommended: Gr. 4-7