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The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story by Thao Lam

Published by Owlkids Books

The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story: Lam, Thao: 9781771473637: Books

Summary:  Thao Lam and her family escaped from Vietnam in 1980 when she was two years old.  This wordless book shows her family’s journey, starting with a dinner in their Vietnam home where they’re planning their escape.  The author’s note explains how, as a child, her mother used to rescue ants from the sugar water left in the house to trap them.  When her mother was lost in the tall grass during her escape, a trail of ants led the family to the river and their escape boat.  The illustrations show a parallel journey of ants escaping in a paper boat as the family is traveling in a larger ship.  One of those ants crawls into a meal that turns out to be Thao Lam’s family dinner in their new apartment in Canada.  Includes an author’s note giving more information about her family’s experience and her mother’s story about the ants.  40 pages; grades 2-7.

Pros:  The cut paper illustrations do an amazing job of telling this refugee family’s story, cleverly bookending the tale with two family dinners, and weaving the story of the ants in seamlessly.

Cons:  Reviews I read recommended this book for kids as young as 5, but I think the nature of the story and the way it’s told make it more of an upper elementary and middle school book. I wish the author’s note had been at the beginning to help me understand the story before I began.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

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Review: The Map From Here To There

The%2Bmap%2Bfrom%2Bhere%2Bto%2BthereThis coming of age novel centres on the last year of high school for Paige Hancock and her friends.

Paige seems to have it all mapped out – she has a part-time job she loves at the local cinema, the perfect boyfriend in Max and her close friends.

Everything seems so perfect, Paige doesn’t want anything to change, but of course that is when it all does.

Her job at the local cinema allows Paige to save for her college tuition. Except her divorced parents who are currently dating (in a bizarre dark comedy sort of way) have expectations of where Paige will be going and studying.

Paige knows things need to change but wishes it could stay the same forever.

A chance workshop in English allows Paige to explore screenwriting and encourages her to think she may have a future career; instead of being the English teacher which is expected of her. Changing career paths means applying to film schools in New York and Los Angeles – that wasn’t in the plan.

Another chance meeting at a screenwriting workshop introduces her to Maeve who eventually becomes her writing partner and adds another level of complexity to the decisions Paige is making – should they apply to the same film schools?

Her perfect boyfriend Max, who has just returned from spending the summer in Italy already knows that he will be studying pre-med just like his parents. However, he unwittingly puts pressure on Paige by declaring he wants them to get married, when she baulks at the idea, they split – sending Paige down a rabbit hole of emotions.

Paige is then involved in a near fatal car accident and everything spins out of her control.  Paige begins to experience panic attacks and anxiety, feelings she thought had been dealt with a long time ago. The rest of her life relies on these decisions, what if she makes the wrong one?

Seeking help, Paige is diagnosed with traumatic grief which stems from the death of her previous boyfriend Aaron who drowned in a freak accident. How Paige deals with these life changing decisions, her counselling sessions and the direction life takes her is a rewarding read.

This story highlights the stress and life changing decisions that all teenagers face when catapulted into adulthood. While author Emery Lord depicts the tumultuous feelings, expectations and decision making that happens in real life, she also offers hope and clarity. Life never goes to plan, but there are always new opportunities to explore and embrace.

Title: The Map From Here To There
Author: Emery Lord
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing, $14.99
Publication Date: 31 March 2020
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781526606648
For ages: 14+
Type: Young Adult Fiction

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Review: None Shall Sleep


Emma Lewis and Travis Bell are both teenagers who have had survived encounters with serial killers.

They are therefore recruited by the FBI to interview a convicted teenaged serial killer in order to gain some clues about an ongoing investigation into another serial killer, who is targeting teenagers.

The jailed killer, Simon Gutmunsson, is a sophisticated and charming genius who develops a rapport with Emma and throws her tantalising cryptic clues that may provide some insights into the mind of the killer.

Or maybe he’s a clever psychopath playing her in order to gain changes in his incarceration which may offer him a way to escape.

As I started reading, I was wary of this story, as the set up sounded very close to The Silence of the Lambs.

There were other similarities – just as Lechter taunted Clarisse about being motivated by her failure to save the lambs, so does Gutmunsson taunt Emma about her failure to have rescued the other two girls who had been held hostage with her some years earlier.

And that no matter how successful she may be, she would always bear the load of her guilt.

Thankfully, the storylines diverged enough to save the book from being hurled across the room. I liked that even though Emma was working with Travis, she was the stronger character who made important decisions and kept her nerve. I liked that – unusually for a YA story – there was zero hint of a romance. I was also grateful that it lacked the shocking and bloodthirsty climax of Harris’s novel. However, it was not lacking in gory details, so those who enjoy a thriller will not be disappointed.

Overall, it was very well written, fast paced and had enough twists and turns to keep me guessing. Despite the publisher recommending this for readers aged 14 – 18 years, I would suggest caution for the younger end of this range, due to its graphic description of murders.

Title: None Shall Sleep
Author: Ellie Marney
Publisher: Allen and Unwin, $19.99
Publication Date: September 2020
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781760877309
For ages: 14 – 18
Type: Young Adult Fiction
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Catching Emotions by Artun Bekar

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by Artun Bekar
Middle Grade Fantasy
92 pages
ages 8 to 12
Willy, a very rational boy, is forced to grapple with his unpredictable emotions on an adventure with a classmate. On a journey through a nearby forbidden forest, he discovers nine primary emotions that put him in hazardous situations, then help him overcome them. Each emotion appears in the form of a colorful light.

On his way to school, he meets his first emotion, Happi, and soon after Wonder drags him into the forest. He struggles with Panicky after getting scared by something following him, but his pursuer ends up being his classmate Mia, who was trying to make sure he was safe. Because Mia scared him so badly, Willy unleashes his darkest emotion Fury, and he verbally attacks Mia for scaring him, demanding that she leave him alone.

But after she leaves, Shame and Melancholy visit Willy, and he regrets that he was so mean to Mia. He decides to stand up to his emotions and selflessly focuses on finding Mia. Courage appears as Willy tries to make things right, and even though Willy gets physically harmed during his search for Mia, he still manages to find her. She had tripped and fallen over a cliff and is clinging to life by her fingertips curled around a tree root.

Willy tries to rescue her but accidently lets her fall. His assumption of her death hits him hard, and he feels an unbearable pain in his heart. However, Mia hadn’t fallen the whole way down but onto a ledge a little farther down from the surface. Willy uses Fury, Lovely, and Courage to find the strength and brevity to pull her up.

While trying to find a way out of the forest, they come across a mysterious old man playing the violin who lives in a nearby cabin. At first, doubting the intentions of the old man, they pretend they are not lost. Shortly after knowing more about him, they become friends, and the old man takes them to his cabin for some water and to wrap Willy’s wounds. In the meantime, he mentors them on emotions and promises to direct them back to their school.

However, on the way back, the old man takes them on a detour. He takes them to an old factory that leaked poison and destroyed the nearby environment and wildlife. These horrible surroundings cause Willy to meet his most repelling emotion: Disgusty. The old man gives them a vital lesson about the environment by connecting basic human behavior and emotions.

When they finally get back to school, they find a bunch of people looking for them. Willy’s father furiously blames the old man for all the trouble and pushes him to the ground. Lying on the ground with his broken violin, the old man does nothing but show empathy. He then departs back to his cabin. By the end of this coming-of-age story, Willy has changed into someone who cares much more about his emotions and has more control over them.


Emotions come to life in this intriguing tale about learning to understand ones self and others. 
Willy sees a man jump into the road after a dog and is able to tell the bus driver to stop before a terrible accident occurs. While the man is safe, Willy begins to wonder what caused the man to be willing to leap into the road and put himself in danger…for a mere dog. That’s when the first emotion appears and explains what its purpose is and how it affects others. While Willy is meeting all sorts of different emotions, he finds himself in the forest after school and has a nasty run-in with a classmate. And that’s where the adventure really takes off.
The idea behind this book is very intriguing and definitely shoots off in a new direction. Willy is a boy, who needs to learn about his emotions. It’s not clear why he seems to have difficulty understanding emotions  (the reader can slide by that although I would have loved more background!). Willy meets emotions face-to-face. Literally. Little balls of color appear, each with a fitting name like Happi or Panicky and so forth. They speak to Willy, not only explaining themselves, but leading him to act in different ways. 
It’s an interesting push and pull between Willy and the emotions, and allows readers to learn more about why they sometimes feel the way they do and how these emotions affect others. Now, this entire emotion personality might sound weird…and it is original (as said) but I was surprised how well the author got it to work. The emotions had clear personalities (like little creatures) and were a bit quirky, at times. Of course, some of it was a bit awkward. The emotions explained what they do and such…which…okay, it will work for younger listeners, I guess. Older ones will roll their eyes. But the emotions are also endearing, cause a little trouble, and came across better than I feared they might.
All of this is packed into a fast-paced adventure, which does keep the pages turning. Willy finds himself in some difficult situations, and it’s hard not to wonder what will happen next. The emotions are tricky, and he has to learn how to deal with them…in more ways than a reader might first think. This entire tale is put into less than a hundred pages, which makes it something even reluctant readers might be willing to pick up. Of course, the adventure also allows the possibility to discuss more about emotions and can be used in a group situation to address this topic. The beginning did start off without much introduction into Willy and who he is (which I found rather unfortunate and missed), and some of the vocabulary used in the dialogue didn’t fit the natural word choice of kids that age. But despite these small stumbles, the book is well done and readers are sure to enjoy it.
And here he is…


Artun%2BBey%2B5 01 01 01

Artun Bekar was born in Turkey. Raised in Switzerland and Ukraine. He studied International Relations in the United Kingdom. He is currently living in Shanghai and working in the healthy snacks industry. He became interested in writing children’s books when he realized that in modern educational paradigms there isn’t enough environmental and emotional teaching for kids. After extensive research on emotions and the environment, he started writing stories for children. His latest book Catching Emotions focuses on emotional and environmental awareness. He strongly believes it is necessary to teach about emotions at a very early age. To protect and preserve the environment, he strongly advocates to introduce today’s environmental challenges to kids as early as possible. Retrospect, the best way to accomplish this task is through well composed stories that can raise questions in children’s minds.
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Millionaires for the Month by Stacy McAnulty

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

Millionaires for the Month: McAnulty, Stacy: 9780593175255: Books

Summary:  When Felix and Benji find a wallet belonging to billionaire Laura Friendly, they return it–after first “borrowing” $20.00 to buy themselves hot dogs and ice cream.  As a reward/punishment, Ms. Friendly offers the boys $10 million.  But there’s a catch: first they have to spend $5,368,709.12 in a month (the amount you’d have by starting with a penny and doubling it every day for 30 days).  There are some rules: no real estate, no vehicles, no charities, and no gifts.  At first, the boys are thrilled to buy whatever they want, but they soon learn the ancient lesson that money can’t buy happiness.  The “no gift” rule makes them look selfish, and spending millions just on themselves proves increasingly difficult.  When tragedy strikes, the boys realize that many of the best things in life have no price.  The end finds them wiser, but no richer…well maybe just a little bit richer.  336 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  This improbable but fun tale taps into our love/hate relationship with money, and could lead to some interesting discussions.  Sure to appeal to upper elementary and middle school kids.

Cons:  I was expecting some sweeping revelation about Laura Friendly, but there was nothing spectacular.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

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Review: Challenger Deep

challenger%2BdeepCaden Bosch lives a double life – seemingly a normal adolescent boy, quirky, smart and fun, living in suburbia, juggling the demands of friends, schoolwork and leisure.

Yet he is simultaneously working as the artist in residence on board a ship with the mission to explore the deepest part of the ocean, the Challenger Deep part of the Marinas trench.

Caden had no memory of volunteering for this, and is at a loss to explain how he can be in two places at once.

But he accepts it, and the reader is taken on his two concurrent journeys.

His ‘regular’ life takes a few turns for the worse – the normally brilliant student falters and fails tasks, he becomes distant from his friends and lies about being on the school track team, instead wandering the neighbourhood during the times he was supposedly training.

On board the ship, the captain’s demands become more ruthless, and Caden is enlisted to dive the depths of the trench. The captain’s parrot tries to secure Caden’s support for mutiny. But how can a ship survive without its captain? In turn, the captain orders that Caden kill the parrot. How can Caden choose sides? And how can he possibly dive down into the deepest trench in the ocean on his own?

In the uncharted depths of Challenger Deep, where no light reaches and the pressure would crush any land dwelling organism, there lies a treasure. Can Caden marshal the strength to go there? Does the treasure actually exist? This is a powerful metaphor for the personal hell of Caden’s mental illness, when his conflicting urges are pulling his psyche apart.

An estimated 10-20% of adolescents globally experience mental health conditions, according to the World Health Organisation. This is one child’s experience with his demons, based on the deeply personal journey the award-winning author, Neal Shusterman, took with his own son. Although better known for his various fantasy trilogies, Shusterman handles this with sensitivity, wisdom and humour.

A captivating and satisfying read.

Title: Challenger Deep
Author: Neal Shusterman
Publisher: Walker Books, $18.99
Publication Date: 6 August 2020
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781406396119
For ages: 14+
Type: Young Adult Fiction

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Review: The Austen Girls


The Austen Girls is a fictional story featuring real life people, written into a plot inspired by the times.

Writer and presenter, Lucy Worsley (you might have seen her on TV), is the Chief Curator at Britain’s Historic Royal Palaces and has many historical facts and experiences to draw upon.

In The Austen Girls, she’s set her story in Georgian England.

As it opens, cousins Fanny and Anna are making their debut in society, and are expected to find husbands and ‘marry well’.

As they navigate the waters of coming of age, they face the pressure of expectations and people who are not always what they present themselves to be.

All the while, they also have the example and advice of their Aunt Jane.

She tells Fanny and Anna that they should consider themselves in training to become heroines, like those in novels.

Aunt Jane has never married and lives as independently as a woman could at that time. She is Jane Austen, who we know today as the author of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and other novels.

In The Austen Girls, it’s not known that Aunt Jane is an author, and the revelation of that secret to one of her nieces has a particular place in the story.

Meanwhile, Fanny and Anna learn lessons about life, make choices and forge their own paths, with bumps along the way.

There’s gentle romance, and a touch of intrigue, as the author integrates historical elements of the period, particularly social norms which may prompt thoughts or discussion of the differences between then and now.

The Austen Girls weaves a story that transports you to a period that is foreign to 21st Century readers, and will make you thankful for the opportunities we have today.

A few pages on what was real are provided at the end, and offers some context for anyone wanting to know more.

Title: The Austen Girls
Author: Lucy Worsley
Publisher: Bloomsbury, $15.99
Publication Date: May 2020
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781526605450
For ages: 12+
Type: Young adult fiction

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Review: How to Break an Evil Curse by Laura Morrison

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Chronicles of Fritillary, Book 1
by Laura Morrison
Black Spot Books
YA Fantasy
410 pages

Princess Julianna may be cursed to dwell in darkness, but she’s no damsel in distress.

How to Break an Evil Curse is the first book in a fantasy series about a princess who may be cursed to live in darkness, but refuses to let her curse define her life.

The King of the Land of Fritillary has incurred the wrath of his ex-bestie, the evil wizard Farland Phelps. Farland curses the King’s firstborn to die if touched by sunlight, and just like that, Julianna must spend her life in the depths of a castle dungeon (emptied of prisoners and redecorated in the latest fashion, of course). A young woman of infinite resourcefulness, all she needs is a serving spoon, a loose rock in the wall, and eight years of digging, and Julianna is free to explore the city—just not while the sun is out!

Warren Kensington is a member of a seafaring traveling theater troupe and the unwitting magical cure to the curse. When the pirate ship he’s sailing on is damaged in stormy seas, he goes ashore and bumps into Julianna on the streets of the capitol. The pair accidentally set in motion a chain of events that uncovers Farland’s plans to take over the throne. Julianna, Warren, and some friends they meet along the way are the only ones who can save the monarchy.

But the farther they go along their increasingly ludicrous journey, and the more citizens they meet, the more Julianna wonders whether her dad’s throne is worth saving. From an evil and greedy wizard? Well, sure. But from the people of Fritillary who are trying to spark a revolution? The people suffering in poverty, malnutrition, and other forms of medieval-esque peasant hardship? It doesn’t take Julianna long to find that the real world is far more complicated than a black-and-white fairytale.
I’m just going to start off that this book has simply been marketed wrong. The blurb create the impression that it’s a dark fantasy and the supposed genre shelf its been shoved into, steer very much into this direction. However, this book is more like a fractured fairy tale with tons of snark and a good dose of humor. When read with that in mind, it’s a good read.
Reminding a bit of The Princess Bride type of humor, this is an intriguing read which mixes a fun plot and with all sorts of adventure.
Princess Julianna was cursed before birth to never get even a tiny sliver of sunlight or fall over dead instantly. Determined to keep her alive, the King and Queen (her parents) let her grown up in what was once the castle’s dungeons, where even after renovation still carry the costs of those who perished there. But those become her friends. As she tries to escape and find freedom, runs into Warren, a sea-faring lad, and together they uncover an evil plot to take over the kingdom. But as they try to stop the horrible sorcerer, Julianna learns how bad a King her father might really be.
This tale surprised me. While I was sure this would make a perfect dark read for October, it was simply a fun, humorous adventure. The entire tale does hold heart and high stakes and action packed moments, but it carries tons of quirkiness and humor and simple snark. A lot of this is thanks to the odd narrator, who constantly jabs in phrases here and there to keep things off-balance. Then, there’s the ridiculous footnotes, which pepper the pages, and offer eyebrow raising, snort worthy comments. It’s cute, it’s silly and it’s really a fun read.
The only thing I didn’t really like was the plot layout and pacing. Especially the beginning jumped around between time frames, scenes and characters, causing a pause each time to figure out where and who and what was happening. It does slide together, but not without hiccups. And I found myself skipping over paragraphs and not feeling as if I missed anything. It was almost as if the humor was there for the humor itself. Which isn’t bad, either. It’s just not my kind of read, necessarily. But it is well done for the right mood. I was just expecting something dark and really had trouble getting past that (thanks to the wrong direction I picked this book up with).
But it is a decent read. And anyone who loved The Princess Bride and is ready for a silly tale with a somewhat similar atmosphere will enjoy this one. It’s quite clever and definitely a breath of fresh air.
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Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

Published by First Second

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh, 240 pp, RL 4

Summary:  Snapdragon believes a woman in her town is a witch, and when her dog goes missing, she’s afraid the witch has eaten him.  An angry confrontation winds up being the beginning of an unusual friendship.  The “witch”, Jacks, turns out to be a lonely old woman whose business is rescuing roadkill and rebuilding their skeletons to sell online.  Snap and Jacks bond over their love of animals, but as they get to know each other better, Snap discovers that Jacks has a deep connection to her own family from long ago.  Not only that, but the woman turns out to possess some of the magical powers Snap first suspected her of having, and Snap begins to learn some magic herself.  When Snap’s mom’s abusive ex-boyfriend shows up, it’s up to Snap and Jacks to use their magic to save the day.  Jacks finds herself back in the family again, and it looks like there just might be a happy ending for everyone.  Includes pages showing the process of early sketches and turning them into the finished pages as well as some other book cover ideas. 240 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  Kat Leyh packs a lot into this graphic novel, with an ambitious story and lots of interesting characters including the two main ones, as well as Snap’s mother and grandmother, and Lulu, her transgender best friend.  She masterfully cuts from one scene to the next, keeping the action moving quickly.

Cons:  The ending wrapped up pretty neatly, and I don’t see any sign of a sequel.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

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Review: Contagion

contagionThe Great War has ended but a new war has begun. It is through fourteen year-old Charlotte’s daily diary entries that the story is told.

The end of 1918 is nearing. Charlotte’s dad has returned from the war a broken man. His experiences are locked inside him. He is grumpy and resentful of everything. Charlotte cannot understand why he has changed so, nor can anyone else.

Life goes on the same as before for the rest of the family, but frustration at Dad’s unbearable attitude is added to their daily burden. Charlotte’s only confidant is Florence, her neighbour, best friend and daughter of the local GP.

Mum, a nurse, works night shift to feed her four children. A large part of the household chores fall on Charlotte alongside her studies. She dreams of becoming a nurse too. To learn something about her father’s condition and the medication he is taking, she secretly borrows some medical books from Florence. If people don’t tell me anything, then I shall have to find out for myself.

With a sharp mind and an interest in everything, Charlotte’s potential is recognised by the doctor. With permission for her to accompany him as helper on his rounds during school holidays, Charlotte is given more opportunity to learn.

It’s not until mum’s brother, Donald, comes home from overseas just before Christmas, that change occurs. Charlotte overhears dad and Donald discussing traumatic and sometimes gruesome details of war life. She at last understands why her dad is the way he is.

The New Year brings new challenges. An influenza pandemic has hit Melbourne and all the area is infected. On her home visits with the doctor, Charlotte is confronted with death for the first time, and poverty far beyond what she could have imagined. She is forced to disinfect before she goes home. Everyone must wear a mask.

When her sister dies, and the other two girls, Mum and Donald get infected, Charlotte is filled with fear. Will dad stand up at last in this do-or-die situation, and finally give his family the attention they need?

This reality took place one hundred years ago. Reading it is like hearing what is currently taking place in the world. There is little difference. But as all things that have gone before, this tragedy too, will pass.

Contagion is based on true happenings and is part of the brilliant My Australian Story series which opens the pages to our country’s history.

Title: Contagion
Author: Kerry Greenwood
Publisher: Scholastic, $ 16.99
Publication Date: 1 August 2020
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781760975562
For ages: 9+
Type: Historical Fiction


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Review: The Strangeworlds Travel Agency


Have you ever dreamt of travelling to another world? I certainly have, but 12-year-old Flick really hasn’t. She’s a no-nonsense kid who doesn’t need bedtime stories and knows magic isn’t real.

But when Flick discovers a strange travel agency while exploring her new town, everything changes.
Flick discovers she can see magical tears in the universe (or multiverse to be more accurate), and the Head Custodian of the Strangeworlds Travel Agency, 18-year-old Jonathan Mercator, invites her to join the Strangeworlds Society.

As strange as it sounds, this means jumping in and out of suitcases to travel to other worlds — fantastical, magical, enthralling worlds where you must be careful not to tell fairies your true name and being a thief is an actual profession.
But amongst the fun and curiosities of the multiverse, a threat is looming. Streets are disappearing, outposts have been ransacked and something has happened to Jonathan’s father.
Flick wasn’t even sure she was ready to accept the existence of other worlds, how can she be ready to face dangers she doesn’t even understand? But face them she must, or she may never make it home again and her home may not even be there when she does.
The Strangeworlds Travel Agency is a magical middle grade novel for other world adventurers. Truly stunning and uber engaging, this story pulls you into a suitcase and makes you never want to return.
Mysteries throughout keep you guessing until the end, and twists and turns keep you on the edge of your seat. If you love a fantastical adventure, you must check this one out.
Title: The Strangeworlds Travel Agency
Author: L D Lapinski
Publisher: Hachette, $16.99
Publication Date: 28 April 2020
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781510105942
For ages: 8+
Type: Junior Fiction, Middle Fiction 

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Kenny and the Book of Beasts by Tony DiTerlizzi



by Tony DiTerlizzi
Kenny & the Dragon, Book Two
Simon & Schuster
Middle Grade Fantasy
224 pages

In this highly anticipated sequel to New York Times bestselling and Caldecott Honor–winning author Tony DiTerlizzi’s Kenny and the Dragon, Kenny must cope with many changes in his life—including the fear that he’s losing his best friend.

What can come between two best friends?

Time has passed since Kenny Rabbit’s last adventure with his best friend, the legendary dragon Grahame, and a lot has changed in the sleepy village of Roundbrook.

For starters, Kenny has a whole litter of baby sisters. His friends are at different schools and Sir George is off adventuring.

At least Kenny still has his very best friend, Grahame. That’s before Dante arrives. Dante is a legendary manticore and an old friend of Grahame’s. Old friends spend a lot of time catching up. And that catching up does not involve Kenny.

But there’s a Witch to defeat, a pal to rescue, and a mysterious book to unlock. And those are quests for best friends, not old friends. Right?


This is the 2nd book in a series, but it can be read as a stand alone, which I did since I haven’t yet quite had the time to read book one. I will be, however, since I really enjoyed this read!

Kenny is a rabbit, who’s ending his school years and has 12 younger sisters. He’s already thought of as something special, since he met his best friend, a dragon, and managed to prove that dragons won’t eat everyone they see. Now, that life has settled down, he’s off to the fair with his family and dragon friend. There he’s lucky enough to become the owner of a fix-it-upper automobile…but he has no idea how good it is that he acquires a car, since a new adventure is about to begin.

This book is so cute and fun and adventurous and simply a lovely read! Kenny and his friends are a wonderful bunch, full of warmth and a bit of humor. His mother is careful. His father warns. And his dragon friend speaks so properly and yet, has a lot to learn. Kenny is the perfect rabbit for an adventure.

This book runs at a nice pace, starting out with a few scenes to let the reader sink into the life and characters before taking off in adventure. Its a bit slower than some novels, but still is never boring and definitely holds in the pages. When the adventure starts, there’s a bit of tension, a bit of gruffness and a wonderful dab of humor filtered in. It’s hard to put the book down, and even harder not to love these characters.

As an extra bonus, illustrations are heavily spread through the pages. These black and white sketches add so much to the fun and life. But then, I’m a huge fan of illustrations in books…and these really are very well done.

Summed up, this is a book I can highly recommend and believe it is a series, which many readers will love.

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Two Very Punny Whodunits by Tara Lazar, illustrated by Ross MacDonald

Teaching kids about puns hasn’t always been the easiest lesson I’ve had to teach. Explaining that a pun is simply a joke that uses the different meanings of a word or phrase in humorous ways isn’t always sufficient, even when I’ve begin the lesson with the old joke: Why is 6 afraid of 7? Because 7 ate 9.” However, Tara Lazar has taken that dusty old joke and turned my lessons into a fun way to teach and learn about the concept of puns.

7 Ate 9: The Untold Story (Private I #1)
written by Tara Lazar, illustrated by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown BFYR, 2017, 32 pages
It all begins when a very scared 6 runs into the office of Private I of the Al F. Bet detective agency and tells him that word on the street is that 7 ate 9 and now 7 is after him. After taking the case, Private I tells 6, “Stay here. I’ll get to the root of this.” “I hope so!” says 6. “I fear my days are numbered.” What follows is a caper that sounds like it is straight out of a 1940s film noir mystery as Private I tries to find clues about 9’s disappearance. It has the same kind of hard-boiled old school way of speaking, but with the slangy language is replaced with punny language. And the number puns never stop. And Ross MacDonald’s bold, colorful illustration, digitally created with colored pencils, and watercolors, are as energetic as the caper itself. This didn’t work with my younger readers, but it was a real hit with older kids who are already somewhat math savvy. They really enjoyed finding and talking about the math references. Their favorite – Cafe Uno where customers can get a slice of .
The Upper Case: Trouble in Capital City (Private I #2)
written by Tara Lazar, illustrated by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown BFYR, 2019, 32 pages
Capitalizing on the fun of her first book, Tara Lazar returns to the Al F. Bet detective agency for another caper. It seems Question Mark was all bent our of shape because all the uppercase letters in Capital City has gone missing and to emphasize his point, he had brought along Exclamation. Would Private I take the case? if he didn’t solve this one, with all the capital letters gone, there would be incomplete sentences dangling everywhere. What results, as Private I tries to solve the case, is a punny introduction to punctuation when he tries to interview them. They are all too busy to talk, only the Quotation Twins are willing to talk: “Yeah, something’s definitely up, besides us…But don’t quote us on that.” This is written with the same kind of hard-boiled film noir mystery way of speaking and illustrations as 7 Ate 9. Once again, I found it did not work with my younger readers who are 4-5 years-old, but it did work better with kids 6+. My favorite part was the appearance of the Grammar Police represented by Elements of Style and the Chicago Manual of Style.
My older readers had some fun trying to come up with their own punnny jokes after reading these books. Both of them are delightfully funny, punny, fresh ways of helping students understand puns and word play and are ideal additions for classroom or home school libraries.


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What Lane by Torrey Maldonado

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books

What Lane? - Kindle edition by Maldonado, Torrey. Children Kindle ...

Summary:  Stephen wears a bracelet that reads “What lane?”, a basketball reference to staying in your lane, which is something he doesn’t want to do.  He’s curious about the world, and eager to move between all different lanes.  But then he starts to see that it’s not that easy for him as a biracial kid who tends to hang out with the white kids. He begins to notice that he’s often treated differently by adults, often coming under suspicion in a way his white friends aren’t.  A new group of black friends give him a new perspective, and all his friends come to his rescue when he’s the victim of bullying by a new kid in town.  Stephen has some hard truths to learn, but he’s also fortunate to have good support from his white mom, black dad, and good friends.  144 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  A quick read that’s a great reluctant reader pick and an excellent catalyst for conversations about racism.  Stephen’s voice rings true, and most of the kids in his circle are trying to do the right thing.  A definite awards contender for 2020.

Cons:  There was a lot packed into 144 pages. The plot felt at times like it was driven by the agenda, without as much of an opportunity to develop the storyline and the characters as a longer book would have offered.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

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Stealing Mt. Rushmore by Daphne Kalmar


It’s the summer of 1974, and the Watergate scandal is all the news. But for Nell Sanders, 12, there are other worries. Five months ago, her mother had walked out, leaving Nell to care for her depressed father Ronnie, a short order cook, three brothers, and the house. Mom may be gone, but her father’s dream of taking his family to see Mt. Rushmore isn’t. It”s such an important monument to him that he named his three sons after the presidents carved there. Well, all except Abe Lincoln. That should have been Nell, instead she was named after Susan B. Anthony.

But when her father discovers that the money he worked so hard to save is gone for their trip, he’s sure their mother took it when she left. Depressed and angry, Ronnie takes to his bed. Left to fend for herself, the house and her brothers George, 15, Tom, 10 and Teddy, 6, Nell is determined to replace the missing money so that everything will once again be A-okay, as her dad would say.
And as if she hasn’t enough to do, Nell and Teddy rescue a dog that is being abused, even though their father has made it clear – no dogs allowed. Naturally, they name the dog Abe. As if George becoming surlier, Tom withdrawing more into the basement to build models, and Teddy becomes needier isn’t enough, Nell’s best friend has become boy-crazy, causing a rift between them. But not before Nell comes up with a brilliant way to make some replacement Mt. Rushmore money with Maya’s help.
To top all this off, Nell finds out that it was George who took the money in the first place and gave it to their mother for her new apartment in Boston. Then, when their dad finds this out, the rupture in the Sanders family just keeps widening, to the point where even Nell begins to lose hope.
The Sanders family is certainly dysfunctional, but not because mom left. She has always made it clear she did not want to be there, did not want kids, did not want to be married. But while she was often mean and insulting to her family, her presence is still missed.
Now, Nell is thrown into the role her mom should have fulfilled, because, as she says, “Mom had ducked out on cleaning and cooking and kid watching and I got stuck with it because I was the girl.” Yet, Nell is extraordinarily kind to Teddy, giving him the motherly care and attention she so desperately needs herself. The clearest example of that is when her body begins to change, and there is no mom there to help and support her.
Kalmar includes a number of important themes in Stealing Mt. Rushmore. It is interesting that she chose to tell Nell’s story against the backdrop of Watergate. Both involve disillusionment, Nell in her mother, the country in Nixon; relinquishment, mother and family relinquishing each other, Nixon relinquishing the presidency; and both of these things result in change for the family and the country.
But there are also themes of  neglect, a father who sleeps his depression away, and racism directed at Nell’s friend Maya, whose family was from the Azores and whom Nell’s neighbor refers to as “that foreign girl,” but neither of these themes were explored with any depth. I also found that some of the language and some of the topics had a more modern sensibility – for example, a hippie telling Nell about how Mt Rushmore was stolen from the Native Americans living there. On the other hand, I loved all the period details, and there were plenty giving the setting a real feeling of authenticity, making this a good choice for anyone interested in historical fiction.
This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was gratefully received from Barbara Fisch at Blue Slip Media
Be sure to check out the other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday offerings, 
now being carried on by Greg at Always in the Middle.