The Last Windwitch

Author: Jennifer Adam

Publisher: HarperCollins

Release Date: April 13/21

Reviewer: Kathie

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

This is one of those stories that continues to stay with me after it’s over. I miss it, and wish I could visit Brida and her world again. It’s also one of those stories that I hate to try and review it, because I know my words won’t do it justice.

Brida is an apprentice to a hedgewitch named Magdi, who adopted her an infant. Although she has magic, it doesn’t quite work the way Magdi’s does; she follows her instincts instead. As the weather around Oak Hollow becomes more tumultuous, Brida discover the legendary stormhorses that control it are real, and being pursued for their magic. She desperately wants to protect them, but her magic has drawn the attention of Queen Moira, and she goes into hiding to avoid a summons to the castle. She meets new friends along the way, and discovers a secret about her family that puts her in even greater danger, but she learns she might have the power to defeat the dark magic consuming the land.

What I loved most about this story was how beautifully it was written. The description of the stormhorses, the beauty and decay of the land, the secrets woven into the history of Brida’s family, and the haunting creatures that rose from the ground were so well developed. I felt like I was part of Brida’s journey, travelled the miles along with her, and was invested in her mission to free the stormhorses. I loved watching her begin to understand her magic, and trust her instincts as she ran into situations where she called upon it to help her. I also appreciated that she had to combine her talents with others to make the magic stronger, rather than being the sole heroine of the story, and her tenderness and kind-heartedness endeared her to me even more.

This book was the perfect escape from reality, and though I often have trouble picking up a long book, it’s one I miss now that it’s over. I felt completely immersed in it, without the niggling details that often pull me out a story when they don’t sit right with me. I would definitely recommend this story to fantasy lovers who enjoy a quest rich in detail and adventure, filled with magic, where good strives to triumph over evil.

Recommended: Gr. 5-7

Ground Zero

Author: Alan Gratz

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Release Date: February 2/21

Reviewer: Laurie

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

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

Alan Gratz’s latest book, Ground Zero will have fans familiar with his books and his writing lining up to read this one as he tackles a topic that is a tough one – in time for the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

As with previous books, Gratz uses two perspectives to give us a glimpse into two parts of the world – New York City, the day of 9/11 and present-day Afghanistan. Nine-year-old Brandon is with his father in the North Tower due to his suspension. It is just him and his dad, with no one else able to look after him, Brandon has to go to work with his dad. Flash forward to the present-day, and we meet 11-year old Reshmina in war-torn Afghanistan. Reshmina puts her entire village at risk when she rescues a badly injured American soldier nicknamed Taz. 

For some readers, this may be the first time they read a book about 9/11, and the story of Brandon is detailed and gut-wrenching. Readers get a feel of what happened and what individuals there that day went through. If unfamiliar with the details, I suspect many will want to know more about the events of that tragic day, leading to richer discussions.

Reshmina’s story is just as important. Alan Gratz’s research allows readers to experience Reshmina’s life and what life is like in war-torn Afghanistan. Reshmina has only lived in a country that has been ravaged by war, whether it be different countries invading her homeland or its civil war. Ground Zero shares the point of view that the people of a particular country may not see another county’s involvement as positive. It may be more harmful, placing the lives of the Afghanistan villagers in danger. The tumultuous relationship with her brother and the Taliban demonstrates how families are torn apart and will allow for discussions about global and internal relationships.

Those familiar with Refugee may go ahhhhh, he did it again tying these two stories together told years apart, and I must admit it is a great way to sync them and provide hope. I would be remiss if I did not mention that despite the research that Gratz did for this novel – he did not reach out to an #ownvoices author. Having an author from Afghanistan co-write or even consult today is something that editors and publishers need to be on the look-out, and then suggest/guide authors to ensure that all voices are heard and represented.

OTHER BOOKS BY THIS AUTHOR: Allies, Refugee, Grenade,and Ban this Book

RECOMMENDED: Gr. 5+

#IMWAYR (It’s Monday What Are You Reading?) Jan. 25/21

This week I got lost in an adult audiobook that has occupied most of my reading time. I am listening and enjoying Robert Galbraith’s latest Coroman Strike book, Troubled Blood.  I received this from the library early this week, and with it being just under 32 hours, it has been the book dominating my time. And oh my, Robert Glenister does a fabulous job with the many accents and characters narrating. I will look at listening to more books performed by him. When I finish Troubled Blood, I will look at the library due dates and adjust my next audiobooks accordingly. Some may lapse, and all that means is I will enjoy them later.

I did manage to read one of the Winter Challenge Books, one of the two books I have slated for the two books by one author. The plan is to read one more from the challenge before the end of the month to make a total of four. So what did I read from my Winter Challenge list? 

Red, White and Whole by Rajani LaRocca. A beautiful verse book that deals with culture, identity, family relationships, cancer and death. I loved every moment reading this book. Rehe is an only child who feels torn between her two worlds, her American school life and her Indian home life, but when her Amma becomes sick, everything in her world changes. Released next week, pre-order this is one for your classroom and libraries – readers in grade 5+ will love this one.

This week’s picture book highlights continue to include my nonfiction holds from my public library as I continue to play catch up with 2020 titles. Oh, how I miss purchasing books and simply browsing at my local indie bookstore. Here were four favourites from this past week.

The ABCs of Black History by Rio Cortez, illustrated by Lauren Semmer introduces readers of all ages (including adults) to poignant Black events, people, places and publications. The end matter includes additional details for the words used for specific letters. Loads to learn, unpack and discuss with gorgeous illustrations that include two-page spreads that also add to the learning by sharing specifics, so be sure not to miss them.

Cubs in the Tub: The True Story of the Bronx Zoo’s First Woman Zookeeper by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Julie Downing, is a beautiful story sharing the life of Helen Martini. As a young married couple, Helen and her husband Fred yearned to have a baby of their own. When this did not happen, her husband brought home a lion cub until the zoo took it away. Soon tigers arrived and 

Everest: The Remarkable Story of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay by Alexandra Stewart, illustrated by Joe Todd-Stanton, is a powerful story of how Everest was conquered not just by Sir Edmund Hilary but also Tenzing Norgay. Enthralled with the unique approach to this story, I will write a separate post on this book. 

Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery by Meeg Pincu, illustrated by Yas Imamura, tells the story of many curious individuals from all over the North American continent who solved the mystery of monarch migrations. Nothing says teamwork like this book, and the best part is that you can become part of the team. Another book where I liked the way the story unfolded interspersed with facts about the monarch butterfly.

I want to acknowledge the two that started this all. It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? changed from becoming a meme for adults but also to including children’s lit. This idea 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 join in on the fun every Monday 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 show support for #kidlit bloggers by reading and commenting.

Happy reading!

Laurie

We All Play

Author: Julie Flett

Publisher: GreystoneKids

Release Date: May 25/21

Length: 40 pages

Reviewer: Laurie

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

Every time I read a new Julie Flett book, I have a deeper appreciation for her as an author and an illustrator.  We All Play is quietly beautiful if there can be such a thing.

Using two-page spreads, we see a variety of North American animals playing. Using natural muted colours, readers will see rabbits, seals and geese along with animals not as common, buffalos, bats and lynxes playing. After each set of three animals, Ms. Flett shares children playing similarly to the group of animals just showcased. Not only are land, water, and air animals depicted, but so are the seasons represented and animals active during the night.

As much that I adore the artwork in this book, it is the careful consideration of Julie Flett’s words that make this book stand out for me. There are only four words on each page, which means they have to stand out and stand out they do! The use of alliteration and vocabulary word building is one that educators will love to use as a mentor text. Ms. Flett delicately balances using familiar words (hide and hop) to ones not used as frequently (nudge and nuzzle). Again ending the set of three with children and the line “We play too!” until we are all tuckered out and need to rest.

The final copy of the book will include a glossary with all the animals in Cree and English. Another spectacular picture book, reinforcing that we are all connected and more the same than we are different. Classrooms and libraries need more books by Indigenous Peoples, sharing their perspectives on everyday life and events. Preorder this one that comes out in May.

OTHER BOOKS BY THIS AUTHOR: Birdsong, Wild Berries and When We Were Alone

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: Prek +

Unsettled

Author: Reem Faruqi

Publisher: HarperCollins

Release Date: May 11/21

Reviewer: Kathie

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

5 stars!!! What an absolutely beautiful story. This novel in verse comes out in May 2021, and is perfect for fans of stories like Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga.

Nurah and her family live in Pakistan, but her father find works in the States and decides to move the family for job security and better schooling. Nurah doesn’t want to leave her grandparents, friends, or the life as she knows it. Although she already speak English, she feels like she stands out because of the way she dresses and the color of her skin. She joins the swim team at school, where she desperately wants to prove herself, but is always in the shadow of her athletic brother, Owais. Adjusting to life in the US is challenging for each member of her family in different ways, but like the stages of plant life referenced in the headings of the parts of the book, Nurah eventually finds a way to bloom in new soil.

This is one of the most poetic and beautifully written novels in verse I’ve read. I wrote down so many quotes that jumped out at me with vivid language. I loved not only the nature imagery, but also the way she describes skin colors. I’m amazed at how much the author was able to communicate with such few words, and the story moves very quickly because of the format. It’s inspired by many of the author’s real life experiences immigrating to the US, and the feelings ring true and honest. I love how watching Nurah grow, enduring challenges and disappointments, but continuing to develop into her own unique person.

Although I read the book in eARC form, the illustrations inside the book are absolutely beautiful. Soumbal Qureshi did the cover design, and I believe she was responsible for the artwork throughout the novel, which truly makes this book a work of art.

I highly recommend this story, and think it would be a wonderful read aloud for middle grade classrooms.

Recommended: Gr. 4-7

Seven Voyages: How China’s Treasure Fleet Conquered the Sea

Authors: Laurence Bergreen and Sara Fray

Publisher: Roaring Book Press

Release Date: Jan. 19/21

Length: 176 pages

Reviewer: Laurie

Thank you to the debut author Sara Fray, the publisher and Edelweiss + for an eARC copy.

I have never described myself as a nonfiction reader, but lately, I am discovering that I enjoy reading about various explorations. I did not know anything about China’s explorations, but I was about to learn a lot and be fascinated.

Seven Voyages: How China’s Treasure Fleet Conquered the Sea provides readers with some background information about the Yongle Emperor, Admiral Zheng He in charge of the fleet , the construction of the boats and the seven voyages taken with these ships. 

The first few chapters introduce Zheng He and the Yongle Emperor and the relationship between the two men. Zheng He, born Ma He was the son of a Muslim family. When Yunnan city was captured, Ma He, now a prisoner, was castrated and became a eunuch (a common practice of the time). Ma He served in Zhu Di, the Prince of Yan’s, household and later became the Yongle Emperor. Ma He became a trusted advisor and soldier to the Prince, and when he usurped his nephew, (the Emperor at that time), Zhu Di, Prince of Yan, became the Yongle Emperor. The new Emperor promoted Ma He to be the Grand Eunuch (the highest possible rank) and gave him his new name, Zheng He. 

Learning where the two men came from and how their paths crossed allowed me to see the connections and how they both respected one another despite the class differences. The Yongle Emperor provided Zheng He with some extraordinary opportunities to represent the Emperor and China. In return, Zheng He wanted to represent the Emperor in the best light and not let him down. Throughout the book, it talked about how Zheng He tried to use diplomatic measures rather than force when dealing with other countries or dignitaries.

Knowing nothing about this fleet and little about this time in history, I became enthralled with the building of the Treasure ships themselves. The sheer size of these boats and what they had aboard was simply mind-blowing. The Treasure ships were 450 feet in length, ships that housed horses carry supplies, and transport troops ranged from 165 -339 feet. The illustration that compared the Treasure ship and Columbus ship demonstrated how Columbus’s ships simply dwarfed in size. For years, Emperor Yongle would build over 1 600 of these types of vessels. Each of the seven voyages varied in the number of ships and the size of the personnel. The first voyage had 317 ships and 28 000 crew members. Compare that to Christopher Columbus with three ships and 90 crew or Ferdinand Magellan who had 5 ships and a crew of 257.

The number and size of the ships for the voyages were astonishing, but onboard, those ships are what displayed innovative thinking. The vessels would have not one but two hulls and house water tanks that would hold enough fresh water for the entire crew for thirty days. It had floating gardens to grow food and tanks to keep caught sea life fresh. They used pulleys, adjustable rudders and early forms of the compass, all evidence of Chinese ingenuity.

The Yongle Emperor wanted to dominate not only the seas but establish ports and routes for trading power. Each of the Seven Voyages had a specific purpose and goal and laid a foundation for the subsequent voyages. The voyages also served to transport royalty and dignitaries bearing gifts to and from China. During this time, it was evident that the Chinese dominated when it came to the sea.

I appreciated the maps and illustrations showing the cross-sections of the boats. Despite having those text features, I still had oceanic maps open on my phone to learn more about the routes. I admire the scaffolding of the voyages and the patience and strategy it took to build safe ports and routes. I think readers interested in exploration will find these voyages fascinating. Many (like myself) unfamiliar with this time of exploration will learn a great deal. 

Beneficial for readers interested in learning about Chinese exploration of the seas in the early 1400s, there is a great deal to discuss. The implications of ceasing the explorations and how history may have looked very different if the Chinese had continued to use the fleet. This book would be best suited for upper middle-grade readers due to some content explained in a fair amount of detail (concubines and subsequent violence). 

Other Books By Laurence Bergreen: Columbus: The Four Voyages, Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu and Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe

#IMWAYR (It’s Monday What Are You Reading?) Jan. 18/21

This week I read another nonfiction book and discovering that I am enjoying the adventure type nonfiction books. I continue to be grateful to my local library, Alice Turner library that keeps me supplied with picture books. I miss the luxury of going to bookstores and buying books and have to rely on the library to purchase, process and get out on the shelves.

Seven Voyages by Laurence Bergreen and Sara Fray is a nonfiction upper-middle grade book, sharing details of China’s greatest ocean explorer, Zheng He and the Seven Voyages, in the early 1400s BC. This book taught me a great deal about the construction, magnitude and size of the Treasure Ships.  

I also finished one of my Winter Reading Challenge books, The Puck Drops Here, by Canadian author Kevin Sylvestor. This read reminded me of Aaron Reynolds Bad Guys series, and the appeal is there for this new series – hockey, kids who love hockey, evil genius and mutant giant ice squids. These kids will be popular; problem solvers, learning to work together as a team to save the world. 

Currently, I am listening to the final book of the Magisterium series (The Golden Tower). I finished books three and four of the Magisterium series (The Bronze Key and The Silver Mask), and now I am listening to the final book, The Golden Tower.  I still am reading Stuart Gibb’s Belly Up, which I am enjoying. 

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I continue to play a bit of catch up with pictures books from 2020 that I wanted to read. This week I would recommend the following books to add to your classroom and/or library.

A Year of Everyday Wonders by Cheryl B. Klein, illustrated by Qin Leng. Oh, how I needed this reminder of the many wondrous things that can happen over a year with a touch of humour when it comes to things involving your siblings. Illustrations with a variety of sizing and vibrant colours will be a great one to read in January.  

Your Place in the Universe by Jason Chin. Wow! I loved how Jason took young eight-year-olds and used relative size to work our way to the vastness of the universe and back again, teaching readers relative size. There is additional information to take in as we compare distances, size and scale. The visuals will help readers quickly see the differences, as Mr. Chin moves us farther away from earth and back again.

Field Trip to the Moon by John L. Hare. A wordless picture book about a classroom field trip to the moon where one of the students misses the bus-ship back to earth after falling asleep off the beaten path. What happens as the student awaits rescue becomes an adventure in itself.

Sugar in Milk by Thrity Umrigar, illustrated by Khoa Le. A young immigrant is missing her family and friends, unsure about how to embrace her new country and make friends. Her aunt tells her the story of how another group of immigrants were not welcome by the king. They looked different, spoke another language, and there were too many of them. The king said there was not enough room and wanted them to leave. The immigrant leader showed him a cup and filled it with milk suggesting the cup was full and could not add any more. Then slowly, the leader added sugar to the milk, carefully stirring and sweetening the milk. The king understood the metaphor and accepted that the group could live among his people and make it better. The young girl makes a plan of her own to sweeten the place where she lives.

I want to acknowledge the two that started this all. It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 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 join in on the fun every Monday 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 show support for #kidlit bloggers by reading and commenting.

Happy reading!

Laurie

What is an Options Pile?

Like many of you, I often find my library holds come in all at once. Suddenly, I’m overwhelmed with books that have due dates, in addition to the books on my shelf at home that want to read. Here’s what my pile looks like today after my latest library run. It’s not out of control, but it could easily stress me out if I actually planned to read them all.

Did you hear that? If I actually planned to read them all. I have no intention of reading all of these books, and I’m totally OK with that. Why? Because a lot happened in the weeks since I put holds on many of these books. I spent a lot of time examining how I feel about what I read, and what I want that part of my life to look like in 2021. I watched two classes from Anne Bogel at Modern Mrs. Darcy about examining our reading lives and setting intentions for the new year, and I feel I have a much better sense of who I want to be as a reader. Some of these books just don’t fit what I want to be reading right now, and I’ll return them without any guilt. They didn’t cost me anything, and I helped my library’s circulation statistics for the month.

Some books I’ll keep on my pile, but I still might not read them. A trick I learned is to stop thinking of this as my “to-be-read” or TBR pile, and to think of it as my “options” pile. I find this helps take the pressure off the need to read them all, and instead presents me with a pile of interesting books from which I can choose. I like to have a variety of genres and lengths to appeal to my different reading moods. If a book sits there for a while, I’ll eventually return it to the library, but I know that I can request it again at any time (I’ve been known to have the same book on my options pile many different times, waiting for the right mood to read it). It feels less stressful to have an options pile, and easier to return the books without regret that I didn’t get a chance to read them all.

I’d love to hear if you use this idea, and how it works for you.

Amari and the Night Brothers

Author: B.B. Alston

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Release Date: Jan. 19/21

Length: 431 pages Audio: 11 hours & 12 min.

Reviewer: Laurie

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

Amari is a thirteen-year-old living with her mom in a less than desirable neighbourhood. Amari, like her older brother Quinton, attended school on a scholarship, but then Quinton disappears. Quinton was the perfect older brother and called his little sister Amazing Amari, always building her up and instilling confidence in her. After he goes missing, many suspect that perhaps Quinton was not in a summer leadership camp and tutoring kids but got himself mixed up in something that got him trouble and resulted in his disappearance. Amari refuses to believe this, and when a dream allows her to talk to her brother, she discovers that if he went missing, he left her something that will explain everything – a briefcase with a nomination and an address.


Once she makes her way to the address, Amari discovers that she has a one time chance to earn a spot in the Secretive Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, just like her brother. Amari is now determined to find out what happened to her brother and accepts the opportunity to attend the summer camp. There she will compete as a trainee to become a Junior Agent like Quinton, to find him.


Once inside, Amari realizes that just like the world she lived in, dealing with racism and prejudice, this new world presents similar problems. Thrust into a world Amari knows little about compared to her fellow competitors who grew up in the Supernatural world, Amari must quickly adapt and adjust. Upon entering as a trainee, she becomes aware that everyone has a unique ability that gets publically announced, and her talent is illegal – providing even more antagonism.


When the evil magician Moreau threatens the Supernatural World, Amari realizes the connection between Moreau and Quinton. Her brother Quinton was looking for Moreau and knows finding Moreau is the key to finding her brother despite the majority of the Bureau being against her.

There is so much to love about this book. A Black fantasy protagonist for middle grade, giving so many readers a mirror to see themselves! Amari becomes a strong female protagonist by making mistakes but finding the courage to do what she knows to be right. Then there are the friendships that develop between fellow underdog and roommate, Elsie, a weredragon, who is the last of her kind and Dylan, the son of the Director of the Bureau and twin of Amari’s nemesis Lara. The relationships are complicated and believable. The many different career options and departments within the Bureau are imaginative with descriptions that provide readers with a clear picture. The plot twists that kept me reading well into the wee hours of the morning will engage readers of all ages.

Men in Black meets Harry Potter is what first came to mind when I began reading Amari and the Night Brothers. The intricate beings and worlds that exist right in front of our eyes and the secretive Bureau of Supernatural Affairs and its special departments secretly protecting us and those beings – Men In Black. The strong characters, the quests, the friendships that evolve – Harry Potter. Amari and the Night Brothers take the best qualities of the two to provide readers with an exciting new series.

B.B. Ashton has delivered a debut that has put him on the map for the imaginative, well-developed, fast-pacing, cannot-put-down plot with characters that you are rooting for and secretly wanting justice for those who are not deserving. If you haven’t preordered this debut (out next week) due yourself a favour and gift yourself this gem – I cannot wait for the adventure to continue!

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: Gr5+

The Last Shadow Warrior

Author: Sam Subity

Publisher: Scholastic Inc.

Release Date: April 6, 2021

Reviewer: Kathie

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

I heard this book referred to as Beowulf meets Percy Jackson, but I have to be honest, I never read Beowulf in school and didn’t know the story. Fortunately, it wasn’t a requirement to enjoy this book. The Last Shadow Warrior is a story that puts a spin on Norse mythology the way that The Lightning Thief puts a spin on Greek mythology, and it’s an excellent book to recommend to those fans.

Abby’s mom was a Viking warrior known as an Aesir, and after her death, Abby held on her to desire to follow in her footsteps. When she is attacked at their home by a creature she suspects is a Grendel, the same monster that killed her mom, she and her dad immediately take off to Minnesota to go into hiding, where Abby can attend the same school her mom did. Unfortunately, they are in an accident just as they arrive, and her dad is seriously injured and taken to the hospital unconscious. As she tries to deal with his condition, she is taken to her new school, Vale Hall, which she quickly discover is not an ordinary school. But no one believes that Grendel’s still exist and are hunting Abby. In fact, the Viking Council plans to make Aesirs obsolete. Abby and her new friends must figure out a way to save Abby’s dad from his mysterious injury, convince the Council that Grendels do exist and are wreaking havoc, before Abby is their next victim.

I really enjoyed the relationship between Abby and her dad. This can be a difficult time for girls to stay close to their dads, and there’s still a strong bond between them that I loved to see. I also really liked Abby’s friends Gwynn and Grimsby, and how they offered support when Abby was suddenly thrust into a world about which so knew so little. There is also a lot of humor in this story, with monsters doing unexpected things (like playing ping pong) that will make readers laugh. Most of all, I love seeing authors take classic stories and find ways to present them to today’s young readers that will pique their interest in the subject. With a mix of engaging characters, an action-packed and humorous storyline filled with monsters and magic, I think this story will find many readers who will enjoy it as much as I did.

I think there’s so much potential for this book to become the start of a series, so I hope readers love it and allow the author to keep telling us Abby’s story.

Recommended: Gr. 5-7