Review: George by Alex Gino

George George
by Alex Gino

ISBN-13: 9-780545-812542
Publication: August 2015 from Scholastic Press
Rating: 5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I loved it

BE WHO YOU ARE.

When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part . . . because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

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Librarians are wonderful people. My school librarian knows my love of YA and MG lit, and a few weeks ago put this book into my hands. She had just bought it for the school and hadn’t even put it into the system yet. She just said “read it.” So I did – finally. And oh my gosh. Beautiful. George is a fantastic book, and a great character.

I’m ashamed to admit that this is my first time reading a book with a main character who is transgender so I don’t have a lot to compare to, but I think the author did a fantastic job. If I hadn’t read the back of the book, I would have immediately assumed George was a girl in both gender and sex. Alex Gino uses “her” and “she” pronouns throughout the entire book, right form the beginning – the only thing that clued me in to the fact that George was born with a male body (besides the blurb) was the language used by friends, classmates and family in reference to George. It’s easy to see right from the first chapter who George is. She is someone who knows implicitely who she is, but being only ten, is struggling to be herself outside of her own throughts and feelings. I could and would never begin to understand the struggle of trying to explain that you are not who everyone thinks you are. Especially for a ten year old! To want everyone else to accept who she is on the inside and not what they see on the outside? George has a strong heart to not give into the fear of what others will think or say. That fear is there, of course, but she has to be true to herself first and foremost.

5 heartI loved that George had loud, outgoing support in the form of her best friend Kelly, and quiet comfortable support in her brother and principal. Mom struggles a little more, but George is her baby – it’s going to take some time. But you see the glimmer of acceptance begin. It’s inspiring to experience George’s confidence grow as she gets to let parts of true self shine through the school play and a visit to the zoo. Part of the grade six sexual health curriculum in my school board revolves around sexual identity and I think after I return this to my librarian, I’ll go strongly hint that the grade six teacher seek out this book as a read aloud.

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Review: If You Find This by Matthew Baker

If You Find This If You Find This
by Matthew Baker

ISBN-13: 9-780316-240086
Publication: March 2015 from Little, Brown BYR
Source: netgalley
Rating: 3 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I liked it
Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

Nicholas is a math and music genius with no friends and a huge problem: His father has lost his job, and they’ll have to sell their house, which holds the only memory Nicholas has of his younger brother. Just in time, Nicholas’s senile grandfather arrives, filled with tales of priceless treasure he has hidden somewhere in town – but where?

With the help of misfit classmates, two grandfathers, a ghosthouse, hidden messages, séances, and an uncanny mind for numbers, Nicholas stages a nursing home breakout, tangles with high schoolers in smugglers’ tunnels, and gets swept up in a duel with the biggest bullies in the neighborhood. Will it be enough to find the treasure and save his house?

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If You Find This by Matthew Baker is an intriguing book about a young boy who doesn’t quite fit in and his just-out-of-prison grandfather. Throw in two very unlikely friends, family heirlooms and a dreaded ‘For Sale’ sign (and some old smuggler tunnels) and you have the making of a different sort of adventure book.

Nicholas is the best part of If You Find This. His voice is fantastic. Nicholas is a junior high school student, and a genius. As such, he doesn’t really mesh with the rest of the school crowd. Terrified he’s going to lose his house (most likely, with the For Sale sign present) and the last connection to his brother, Nicholas gets some hope in the form of his grandfather – who’s just been released from prison and is more than a little senile. Wanting to find any means necessary to keep his family from moving, Nicholas latches on to his grandfather’s story about buried family heirlooms. And so starts a story filled with senior home breakouts, a haunted house, and the help of the school thief and school bully.

Right at the beginning of the book, I felt for Nicholas. If he leaves his house, he leaves that connection to his brother. If he believes his grandfather, everything could be fixed. If he doesn’t, he might be throwing away the chance to save his house. Does he believe or doesn’t he? I definitely think his choice is awesome, if nto a little unbelievable at times. Like stealign a boat to sail out to an island of tunnels where high schoolers hang out? Alright. Keeping two missing grandfathers in a haunted house and NO ONE manages to find them? Sure. A boy that gets away with stealing all manner of things, mostly high-top sneakers and reselling them (at school!) and nothing’s done about it? Ok. It’s a book, I’ll suspend disbelief for a good story. And Nicholas is worth the story. He’s brave and kind and a little reckless.

3 heart

As a music lover, I also enjoyed the musical knowledge put into If You Find This. Unlike Nicholas, I didn’t play violin, but it was nice to see band class represented in a middle grade story. However, the musical terms did at times distract me from the story. As Nicholas narrates, he included musical notations like forte, piano, etc. to denote how people are speaking, things are sounding, etc. I eventually started skipping over them and reading the sentences as if these words weren’t there – mostly because, at least in the e-ARC version, they were not formated very well. Unfortunately, I have no copies in a local book store that I could go check to see how it’s formated in the finished published version – I guess I’ll just have to order it to read to my class this year! This book is definitely one that I could see reading out loud to my students. They’d love the mysteryof the missing heirlooms.

e-ARC provided through Netgalley from Hachette Book Group Canada in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!

Review: Pie by Sarah Weeks

Pie Pie
by Sarah Weeks

ISBN-13: 9-780545-270113
Publication: October 2011 from Scholastic Press
Source: bought
Rating: 5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I loved it!
Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

When Alice’s Aunt Polly, the Pie Queen of Ipswitch, passes away, she takes with her the secret to her world-famous pie-crust recipe. Or does she? In her will, Polly leaves the recipe to her extraordinarily fat, remarkably disagreeable cat, Lardo . . . and then leaves Lardo in the care of Alice.

Suddenly, the whole town is wondering how you leave a recipe to a cat. Everyone wants to be the next big pie-contest winner, and it’s making them pie-crazy. It’s up to Alice and her friend Charlie to put the pieces together and discover the not-so-secret recipe for happiness: Friendship. Family. And the pleasure of doing something for the right reason.

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I initially bought Pie to read aloud to my class – no other reason, besides the idea of a book revolving around pie appealed to the baker in me. I had so far exclusively read books that had male narrators (no real reason why, and nothing wrong with that at all) and my girl students were begging for a book with a female narrator. I had been recommended Sarah Weeks, and Pie seemed like the best choice. Before I even read the book, I used the Chocolate Cream Pie recipe inside and made one for my boyfriend (he loved it). Each chapter is started with a different pie recipe and my kids made me read each one – even though the measurements meant nothing to them.

I loved Pie. And so did my students! We were enthralled with the mystery of who owned the green Chevrolet, who broke into Polly’s pie shop, and who might want to catnap Lardo. We were enamoured with Alice and Charlie, and sad about Aunt Polly. We were made hungry from all the talk of pie, and learned some new tips and tricks for making them. We felt bad for Alice (because of her mother, and Aunt Polly) but then felt better at the end. We couldn’t figure out why Aunt Polly would leave a pie crust recipe to a cat and then all said “Ohhhhh!” at the end when we figured it all out. We were angry at Alice for comments she made to Charlie, and then were happy when things worked out.

5 heart

In Pie, Sarah Weeks tells a heartwarming story about a young girl who loses her beloved Aunt, but finds that even though she’s gone, her Aunt Polly still lingers in memories and recipes. She finds unexpected friends of both the human and cat variety, and grows her relationship with her mother. Alice’s story is interwoven with flashbacks of herself and her Aunt Polly, stories of the people who also loved her Aunt Polly and her pies, a few well-done mysteries and even a jump forward in time at the end, to see how it all turns out. I will definitely be picking up more books by Sarah Weeks, and I think my students will too.

Review: Blood Diaries – Tales of a 6th Grade Vampire by Marissa Moss

Blood Diaries Blood Diaries: Tales of a 6th-Grade Vampire
by Marissa Moss

ISBN-13: 9-781939-547057
Publication: May 2014 from Creston Books
Source: JKSCommunications
Rating: 3.5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I liked it

Middle school is tough enough for normal humans, but when you’re a vampire, it’s even more challenging.

Edgar Stoker uses wit and humor to navigate the social complexities of middle-school and vampire culture. From surviving Saturday Vampire Jamborees to school lunches, Edgar tries to win friends in both worlds, but when he’s faced with angry vegetable-eaters, his troubles have just begun.

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Blood Diaries: Tales of a 6th Grade Vampire by Marissa Moss is an entertaining look at the life of one Edgar Stoker – 6th grade vampire. Despite Edgar being a vampire, he has many of the same experiences in school that a regular 6th grader would have, making the book fairly easy to relate to.

Edgar writes in his diary about the history of vampires, some of the “rules” of being a vampire (like garlic, stakes, sunlight and telling others), what it’s like at his elementary school (friends and bullies) and the Saturday Vampire Jamboree where he has to deal with all his relatives. Marissa Moss does a very good job of making Edgar and his life believable. The problems in gets himself into and Edgar’s solutions for getting out of those problems are engaging and even a bit funny at times.

3.5 heart

I think my only issue with Blood Diaries: Tales of a 6th Grade Vampire would be the amount of time spent describing each cousin, each friend at school, and all the little nuances of being a vampire. Since in this case Edgar’s diary is being written for an audience and not just himself it’s a bit understandable. Over all, though, I think this book series (I hope it will be a series) will find good homes on shelves of younger kids who enjoy the supernatural.

Hardcover provided by JKSCommunications in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!

Review: World Cup Mouse by Richard Seidman

World Cup Mouse World Cup Mouse
by Richard Seidman

ISBN-13: 9-780989-855303
Publication: May 2014 from Catalyst Group, LLC
Source: JKSCommunications & Netgalley
Rating: 4 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I really liked it

“Where there’s a mouse, there’s a way,” says Louie LaSurie in this book for 7 to 10 year-olds. But it will take more than lofty words for Louie to achieve his goal: to be the first mouse to play for France in the World Cup soccer tournament.

WORLD CUP MOUSE is a funny, action-filled tale of friendship and pursuing one’s dream even when it seems impossible. For example, how can Louie ever manage to kick a human-sized soccer ball and not just the dried pea with which he has been practicing? How can he avoid getting squished by the thrashing feet of the giant humans? And can he overcome his own self-doubts and fiery temper? Aided by his best friend, François, and the human girl, Rose, Louie gives it his best shot.

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World Cup Mouse by Richard Seidman is an adorable book about a French mouse who wishes nothing more than to play for the French soccer team and go to the World Cup.

This book is perfect for younger children, especially those with an interest in soccer, or sports. Louie is a determined, likeable, short-tempered (but working on it), and enthusiastic little mouse. Living in a world where animals can speak to humans, but are still treated as lesser, Louie has a lot to overcome in order to make his dream of playing soccer come true. But he has a wonderful best friend in Francois who encourages Louie at every turn and pushes him when he would give up. Although primarily about Louie and his journey to play soccer for the French national team, World Cup Mouse has so many wonderful messages about friendship, perseverance, passion and acceptance within it.

4 heart

Readers will enjoy cheering on Louie as he goes about realizing his dream of becoming part of the French national team, and growing with him as he learns about such things as anger management, friendship (and the jealousy that can sometimes occur), good attitudes, coaching and playing soccer, and tolerance. World Cup Mouse by Richard Seidman uses easy to understand (but not overly simple) language and introduces the reader to some very basic French words and phrases as well. I can definitely see this book being a great one to have in a classroom or home!

e-ARC provided by JKSCommunications and Netgalley in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!

Review: The Unicorn Thief by R.R. Russell

Unicorn Thief The Unicorn Thief
by R.R. Russell

ISBN-13: 9-781402-279928
Publication: May 2014 from Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Source: publisher
Series: book 2 in Unicorns of the Mist
Rating: 3.5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I liked it

Twig and Ben are unicorn riders – guardians whose job it is to keep the last free unicorn herd safe. But a new danger is threatening the beautiful, mysterious creatures of Lonehorn Island. A thief from Terracornus has snuck onto the misty island and stolen Ben’s loyal unicorn, Indy. There’s only one path for Ben and Twig – straight into the secret, shadowy heart of the island and through the passage to Terracornus.

But their rescue mission is unexpectedly complicated by a secret Ben has been hiding. A secret about the Queen of Terracornus who has enslaved all the unicorns of Ben’s homeland. A secret that could save them all – or start a war.

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Book two in the Unicorns in the Mist series by R.R. Russell, The Unicorn Thief picks up where Wonder Light left off and brings the reader immediately into the current conflict – a thief is stealing unicorns from the castle in Westland in Terracornus.

I quite enjoyed The Unicorn Thief and feel it’s a strong second book. While it continues and expands the main plot line found in book one – Twig becoming a unicorn rider and the need for her and Ben to start taming the free herd on Lonehorn Island – it also introduces us to new characters in Westland and a larger story-arc involving Ben and his former home. Unicorns are being stolen, war is coming to Terracornus and Lonehorn Island and the herd is being affected despite being a world away. When Ben’s unicorn Indy goes missing, Ben and Twig venture to Terracornus where they encounter a dungeon, a thief, a Boy King and a secret that Ben has been hiding. There are some wonderful action sequences, some soft family scenes and heartwarming moments between the unicorns and their riders.

3.5 heart

The Unicorn Thief by R.R. Russell builds nicely upon its proceeding book Wonder Light and sets up some great potential plot for future books. It’s a shorter book, sitting at only 200 and some-odd pages, and though I did enjoy it I found some parts felt a bit rushed. At one point, Ben receives a letter stating that something he needs to do will take place in six weeks. Those six weeks are covered in about two pages. Yes, we can’t see the entire time (that would be boring), but it would have been nice to get a few small moments highlighted. I also couldn’t help but have intense visions of the Fire Swamp from The Princess Bride when reading the parts taking place in The Death Swamp (just instead of ROUSs there are giant lizards). If you’ve never read or seen The Princess Bride, this won’t bug you!

Despite these few quibbles, The Unicorn Thief and its series will definitely find a home in my classroom – I can see the students really enjoying it!

e-ARC provided by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky through Netgalley in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!

Review: Fortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman

Fortunately the Milk Fortunately, The Milk
by Neil Gaiman

ISBN-13: 9-781408-841792
Publication: September 2013 from HarperCollins
Source: BEA 2013
Rating: 5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I loved it!
Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

When a father runs out to buy milk for his children’s breakfast cereal, the last thing he expects is to be abducted by aliens. He soon finds himself transported through time and space on an extraordinary adventure where the fate of the universe depends on him, a time-traveling Stegosaurus (in a balloon), and, fortunately, the milk.

This is quite possibly the most exciting adventure ever to be written about milk since Tolstoy’s epic novel War and Milk. Also it has aliens, pirates, dinosaurs, and wumpires in it (but not the handsome, misunderstood kind), not to mention a Volcano God.

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Fortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman is a hilariously ridiculous story about a dad who steps out to buy milk and takes quite a while about it. When he returns and his children ask where he had been (talking to a neighbour, most likely) their father spins an amazing tale of aliens, dinosaur police, a volcano god, pirates, wumpires, ponies, piranhas, and a hot air balloon.

The story of how the father winds up captured by aliens and then time traveling with Professor Steg, a dinosaur of some intelligence, in a hot air balloon all while avoiding nefarious pirates and wumpires and other nasties by aid of the milk (the milk is always there to save the day it seems) is extremely entertaining. Punctuated by remarks from his children that seem to both question and help further the story they’re being told, and accompanied by amazing illustrations that help you visualize the father’s journey, Fortunately, The Milk is very much a tale of “believe it or not.”

5 heart

At the end, we’re first immediately aware (through the children’s observations) that the story is completely made up. But than the father produces the milk and the last illustration makes you really think twice about whether the father was actually on this amazing journey. Fortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman is a perfect bedtime or classroom story. Even without the aliens and pirates and everything else, the dinosaurs alone would make this story great. Dinosaurs are always a good choice. This is one book that can definitely be enjoyed by anyone and everyone – I loved it!

ARC received at Book Expo America 2013 from HarperCollins. Thank you!