Book Review: The Water Bears by Kim Baker

I saw this diverse read written by Kim Baker at the OLA Super Conference earlier this year. I love the cover of The Water Bears and decided to pick it up.

Genre: Middle Grade

Blurb:

A story about a boy recovering from a bear attack with the help of his friends and maybe, some magic.

All Newt Gomez wants for his thirteenth birthday is a bike. After surviving a bear attack last year, he thinks this isn’t an unreasonable request. Instead, his hardworking parents give him a former taco truck to help him get around the wacky island where they live in the Pacific Northwest. And then Newt and his best friend Ethan find a life-sized wooden bear washed up on the shore. Ethan is convinced the bear grants wishes; Newt doesn’t know what to think.

Newt also has a big decision ahead: go to middle school on the island, or to the mainland where his warm extended family lives? There, he won’t be the only Latinx kid; he doesn’t have bad dreams about the attack, and not everyone knows what happened to him. Newt secretly plots to move to his abuela’s house, but his truck is stolen with the maybe-magic bear inside. He must confront his fears and adapt to the reality of a world that’s often uncertain, but always full of salvageable wonders.

My Thoughts:

This is a wonderful and poignant story that middle grade readers will enjoy. It contains a little adventure, some facts about nature, and features a boy who learns the value of friendship and that it is okay to be a little different.

Newt has experienced a traumatic event (the bear attack) and slowly learns to accept what has happened to him. He also learns, with the help of his friends, that he can move on from his experience – and that it is okay to move on in a way of his choosing. Newt learns that despite the bear attack, he can still enjoy moments in his life – and that he can continue to do things that he enjoyed in the past.

I like the message in this story; it is a message that will sit well with preteens when they read the book. They will learn what it is to be accepted; as well as what it means to be different. The Water Bears is a well-written story that will appeal to children who enjoy reading novels that show growth in the main character.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novels was the 59th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Book Review: Harvey Comes Home by Colleen Nelson

While at the OLA Super Conference at the beginning of this year, I could not resist a signed copy of Colleen Nelson’s middle grade novel Harvey Comes Home. I also could not resist photographing it in front of the tulips I pass by on my morning walk.

Genre: Children’s Fiction, Middle Grade, Animals

Blurb:

A dog’s world is a world of scents, of adventure. When a runaway West Highland Terrier named Harvey wanders out of his old life guided only by his nose and his heart, lives begin to converge.

Austin, a young volunteer at Brayside retirement home, quickly finds that the audacious Harvey inspires Mr. Pickering, a bitter resident coping with memory loss, to tell stories of his childhood. Moved by the elderly man’s Dust Bowl recollections of grinding poverty and the perseverance of his friends and family, Austin begins to trade his preconceived notions for empathy. But is it enough to give him the resolve to track down Harvey’s original owner?

Supported by striking illustrations from acclaimed artist Tara Anderson, Colleen Nelson immerses readers in a rich and unflinchingly human tale of struggle and hope—all inspired by one curious dog.

My thoughts:

The story of Harvey, the dog, is told alongside that of Mr. Pickering, a senior at the Brayside retirement home, and a young boy named Austin. Through these stories, readers will not only experience adventure but they will also learn what it looks like to be empathetic (as well as learn a little history). Austen is a young boy who slowly learns the importance of listening to others and of being empathetic to both Mr. Pickering and Maggie, Harvey’s unknown owner.

Young readers will love this story of a dog who goes on an adventure. They will connect, as well, with both Maggie and Austen especially if they own a dog or would like to own one. Harvey Comes Home is a story that will touch the hearts of young readers and encourage them to follow Harvey in more of his adventures.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 43nd novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Book Review: The Copycat by Wendy McLeod MacKnight

At the OLA Super Conference, I was drawn to the cover of The Copycat by Wendy McLeod MacKnight. After reading the blurb at the back of the lilac-tinged novel, I placed it in my cart thinking it would be a great read for a pre-teen.

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy

Blurb:

A funny, unpredictable, and heartfelt new novel from Wendy McLeod MacKnight, the author of The Frame-Up. Ali has always acted like a copycat to make friends, but when she unexpectedly inherits the ability to change her appearance at will, fitting in seems impossible! Luckily, with the help of her family, new friends, and a touch of magic, Ali might just survive middle school after all. A great pick for fans of Dan Gemeinhart, Erin Entrada Kelly, and Diana Wynne Jones.

Ali and her parents have moved at least once a year for as long as Ali can remember. She’s attended six different schools, lived in dozens of apartments, and never really felt at home anywhere. But Ali’s parents say living in Saint John, New Brunswick, will be different. They’ve moved in with Ali’s great-grandmother—a spunky 99-year-old with a quirky old house that has room for all of them. Ali wants to believe this will be their last move, but everything seems too perfect to be true.

To Ali’s surprise, things are different this time, but not in the way she hoped. She’s finally inherited the Sloane family powers—the ability to change her appearance into any living thing. Ali is a Copycat. Literally. And being the new kid at school is hard enough without worrying about losing control of your powers and turning into your teacher. Luckily, Ali’s new friends are eager to help her use her newfound power. But as Ali soon learns, being a Copycat is no substitute for being yourself.

My thoughts:

The Copycat is a well-written story about a young girl who tries to fit in by behaving the way she thinks others expect her to. It is a story about friendship, family, and self-confidence. It is a story that will resonate with pre-teens as they can relate to the difficulties experienced by Ali, the main character, when she tries to fit into her new school.

Ali learns that in order to make true friends, she needs to be herself. This is a lesson that she learns through trial and error – and by making mistakes that many of the readers may have experienced themselves. She learns that in order to form an authentic bond with others, she needs to trust those that she wants to make friends with. She also learns the importance of forgiveness – whether it is forgiveness of family members or of children her age.

The author has written a story that will resonate with her audience in an accessible way. The pace will keep the reader interested, and the characters will be enjoyed by the pre-teen who opens this book.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 36th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Book Review: Bloom by Kenneth Oppel

I have enjoyed Kenneth Oppel’s middle grade novels in the past and was excited to receive a signed copy of his latest, Bloom, at the OLA Super Conference this year. The line was long and I spent a long time in it but the wait was worth it.

Genre: Middle Grade, Young Adult, Science Fiction

Blurb:

They take over fields and twine around houses. They bloom and throw off toxic pollen—and feed.

Strangely, three Salt Spring Island teens seem immune. Anaya, Petra and Seth. What’s their connection? What’s their secret? A week ago, they wouldn’t have thought they had one.

But they’d better figure it out fast—the invasion has already begun.

My thoughts:

I loved this book so much that I read it in one sitting! The novel is fast-paced and filled with tension – I could not help but turn the pages. Bloom is an excellent choice to get children reading: it is filled with adventure and tension featuring middle grade children.

Children and adults are fighting for survival on the planet. We don’t read much about what the adults are doing – but the group of children featured in this story are doing plenty. They are getting to know one another – and to know their own strengths in a changing world. All three characters (Anaya, Petra and Seth) are good role models and show children that they could contribute in a situation no matter what their strengths and social status.

Oppel has done it again! He has created a story that will engage readers with the written page. Bloom is the first book in a trilogy and I cannot wait to read the next installment.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 25th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Book Review: The Lost Scroll of the Physician by Alisha Sevigny

At the OLA Super Conference, I was able to get a signed copy of The Lost Scroll of the Physician – a middle grade book of the historical fiction genre. The synopsis intrigued me as I have always been interested by the Egyptian period.

Genre: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction

Blurb:

In her search for answers, Sesha must find a priceless scroll for the pharaoh.

Sesha and Ky, children of the pharaoh’s royal physician, are left charming snakes and stealing food to survive after a brutal fire takes their parents and their home.

Unsure of whom to trust, the pair are found and brought back to the palace, despite misgivings that the royals are somehow involved in their parents’ deaths. Sesha is tasked with finding the rare and valuable medical document her father was transcribing for the pharaoh, who needs it urgently for his upcoming campaign.

Befriended by another scribe and a young princess, Sesha must navigate palace intrigue and temple treachery while desperately seeking the priceless scroll that not only has the power to reveal the circumstances around her parents’ death and mitigate any casualties of battle, but may also be the only thing that can save her brother’s life.

My thoughts:

I loved this middle grade book set in ancient Egypt! The language in the novel hasn’t been simplified and includes some beautiful imagery. The metaphors that were used by the author refer perfectly to the time frame of the story.

The Lost Scroll of the Physician is an adventure story and therefore the writing is paced in such a way to encourage the reader to continue reading. Even though the story is set in ancient Egypt, the characters’ experience is relatable to the modern child as they interact with others their age as well as with adults. Sesha finds herself in situations beyond her control and works at changing what she can. She is a strong character that makes the mistakes that children her age often do – but she is able to bounce back from them.

Sevigny has written the perfect adventure story that will get young readers engrossed and committed to the story. The added bonus is that those who are curious about the past will see a snapshot of life in Ancient Egypt. This novel is the first in a series and definitely encourages me to want to read more about Sesha and her sidekick Paser. I know I will be recommending this story to the 8 – 14 years in my life – especially those who enjoy adventure stories.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 19th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Book Review: The Absence of Sparrows by Kurt Kirchmeier

On Twitter, I entered a giveaway to receive an ARC of The Absence of Sparrows by Kurt Kirchmeier. I entered as I was intrigued by the synopsis of the novel – and I am always interested in reading novels for young readers that are a little different. I was pleased when I was gifted a copy of the ARC by the Canadian author.

Genre: Fantasy, Mystery, Middle Grade

Blurb:

In the small town of Griever’s Mill, eleven-year-old Ben Cameron is expecting to finish off his summer of relaxing and bird-watching without a hitch. But everything goes wrong when dark clouds roll in.

Old Man Crandall is the first to change–human one minute and a glass statue the next. Soon it’s happening across the world. Dark clouds fill the sky, and, at random, people turn into frozen versions of themselves. There’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and no one knows how to stop it.

With his mom on the verge of a breakdown, and his brother intent on following the dubious plans put forth by a nameless voice on the radio, Ben must hold out hope that his town’s missing sparrows will return with everyone’s souls before the glass plague takes them away forever.

My thoughts:

The Absence of Sparrows is a well-written story that perfectly suits the 9 years and up age group. The language is clear and not too wordy; the dialogue interesting and easily understood. As an adult, I could not help but become immersed in the story; and I can imagine a 10 year old engrossed in the story in order to find out what will happen.

The novel has a bit of an apocalyptic feel to it as it describes a plague that brings the world to a standstill. The main character, Ben Cameron, is a 10 year old boy who has to work through his emotions and reactions when it affects his own family. Not all his decisions are the correct ones – and these mistakes are what will endear the reader to him. As Ben Cameron goes through the process of doing what is right for him, he learns what is important to him – and how far he will go to stand up for what he believes.

Kirchmeier has written a coming-of-age novel that will hold young readers who enjoy futuristic novels in its grip. The young readers will adore all the facts about birds that have been inserted into the story – interesting facts that they are sure to share with their families. I enjoyed this Middle Grade story and would recommend it to any child looking for a story of courage and hope.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 54th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Ogre Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

My contact at Harper Collins Canada sent me Ogre Enchanted to be a possible book choice at the children’s book club I am starting at school. Fantasy novels are of interest to a number of the members and I thought this one would be a perfect choice.

Genre: Young Adult, Middle Grade, Fantasy

Blurb:

In this prequel to Ella Enchanted, which can stand on its own, young healer Evie is transformed into an ogre by the meddling fairy Lucinda. She’ll turn back only if someone proposes and she accepts!

Returning to the land and many of the characters from her beloved Newbery Honor–winning Ella Enchanted, Gail Carson Levine has written a delightful tale about a clever and endearing heroine who is determined to defy expectations.

Evie is happiest when she is healing people, diagnosing symptoms, and prescribing medications, with the help of her devoted friend (and test subject) Wormy. So when Wormy unexpectedly proposes to her, she kindly turns him down; she has far too much to do to be marrying anyone. And besides, she simply isn’t in love with him.

But a certain meddling fairy named Lucinda has been listening in, and she doesn’t approve of Evie’s rejection. Suddenly, Evie finds herself transformed from a girl into a hideous, hungry ogre. Evie now has only sixty-two days to accept another proposal—or else be stuck as an ogre forever.

My thoughts:

Ogre Enchanted makes one think of the fairy tales we read as young children. The story includes fairies and fairy magic, ogres, and the people who inhabit this magical world. The main character of this novel, Eve, is a young woman who is certain of who she wants to be and who wishes to remain true to herself even though she has been cursed by a fairy. She goes on an adventure in order to lift the curse and while travelling meets up with people that help her realise a little about herself, and what her relationship with her best friend means.

Levine’s storytelling drew me in and I forgot that I was pre-reading the novel for a group of much younger readers. I think that the grade 5s in my book club will love Evie and her independent spirit; that they will enjoy her cleverness in trying to outwit the fairy and her curse; and that they will shout out “Yes!” when they read the ending. I look forward to hearing their thoughts on this story. Ogre Enchanted is a beautifully written story about self-realisation and the growth of friendship.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 21st in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Be My Love by Kit Pearson

I wish to begin a book club at the school I work at. I reached out to the person I know at Harper Collins to see if they had any galleys of appropriate books for 10 year olds. One of the books they sent me was Be My Love by Kit Pearson. When speaking to one of the girls interested in joining my book club, she mentioned that she loves Kit Pearson’s books. As a result, I chose this to be the first one I would pre-read for our book discussion.

Genre: Young Adult, Middle Grade

Blurb:

For as long as she can remember, Maisie has spent her summers on Kingfisher Island. She and her beloved cousin Una run wild, and Maisie feels the warm embrace of her big, extended family.

This summer Maisie needs that escape more than ever. But now everything on Kingfisher has changed: Una has returned from her mainland school a sophisticated young woman too mature for childish games, and even worse, she has an all-consuming infatuation with David Meyer, both an old friend and an older man. Soon Maisie finds herself playing second fiddle—jealous of Una and David’s closeness, and unsure of what those feelings mean.

When Maisie’s greatest attempt to maintain the special magic of her friendship with Una goes up in smoke, it seems as though all is lost. But with an enormous revelation, and a heartrending intervention, Maisie may finally discover the strength she needs to find the same peace that the island has brought her within herself.

My thoughts:

Be My Love is a beautiful coming of age story written by an award winning Canadian children’s author. The story embraces the exploration of one’s own voice and identity – an exploration that would interest young girls who are beginning to realise who they are and what is important to them. In addition, the novel explores sexual identity – the excitement of it and the changes it brings about to a childhood friendship.

This novel will be a perfect read for the book club I am starting at our school. The girls (some of whom I have known when I taught them in grade 2) have matured and are thinking of other things besides their favourite game to play at recess, or the fun they have with their best friend. This novel will show them that it is okay to embrace their new feelings and experiences; and that as we grow older things do change. And yet, through all the changes our childhood friendships can stay strong. I look forward to hearing what my students think about this book.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 19th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris

I was curious to read The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris as I have enjoyed watching the shows he has performed in for TV.

Genre: Children’s fiction

Blurb: 

When street magician Carter runs away, he never expects to find friends and magic in a sleepy New England town. But like any good trick, things change instantly as greedy B.B. Bosso and his crew of crooked carnies arrive to steal anything and everything they can get their sticky fingers on.

After a fateful encounter with the local purveyor of illusion, Dante Vernon, Carter teams up with five other like-minded kids. Together, using both teamwork and magic, they’ll set out to save the town of Mineral Wells from Bosso’s villainous clutches. These six Magic Misfits will soon discover adventure, friendship, and their own self-worth in this delightful new series.

My thoughts: 

This is a perfect read for those tweens who love magic and adventure. The narrator speaks directly to the reader, inviting them to immerse themselves in the story – a story which is interrupted with explanations of magic tricks (which young magicians would adore). As I was reading the story, I could not help but think of some of my students who would enjoy the side narration given by the author of events and magic. Difficult words are seamlessly explained by Harris within the story and the teacher in me loves that the readers will learn new vocabulary. I could see this easily becoming a favourite of some young readers. It is fun, has humorous moments, and is a story of outcasts who become friends and save the day.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐ 3 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 76th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)