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: Vicious by V.E. Schwab

Vicious Vicious
by V.E Schwab

ISBN-13: 9-780765-335340
Publication: September 2013 from Tor
Source: BEA 2013
Rating: 5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I loved it!
Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

Victor and Eli started out as college roommates — brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong.

Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find — aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge — but who will be left alive at the end?

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Vicious by V.E Schwab is fantastic. One of the best books I’ve read lately, different from my current usual, it was just what I needed. Sometimes a nice break away from the young adult and middle grade is just what the doctor ordered. Sci-fi/fantasy with a superhero twist and unreliable heros and villians (heros who ARE the villians!), Vicious delivers amazing characters, world-building and writing.

Our cast of characters is few, but oh man. They are large! Victor and Eli are our two main hero/villians. Friends from university, everything starts to go pear-shaped when research into the relationship between EOs (ExtraOrdinary people) and near-death experiences results in, well, near-death experiences. In the end, Victor goes to prison and Eli doesn’t. As the story progresses, we pick up Mitch and Syndey on Victor’s side, and Serena on Eli’s. All of them with secrets, four of them with powers, and some really crazy views on what makes a hero or villian. Told in alternating past and present chapters, we see how Eli, Victor, Sydney and Serena wind up connecting and colliding in a show down that is both awesome and frightening.

5 heart

I am completely enamoured with V.E. Schwab’s take on superpowers. She has created a world in which EO’s exist, but not because of radioactive spiders, or meteors, or mutant genes, etc. Instead, they’re gifts come from a flirt with death and having their body completely traumatized. So what begins as a fascination for Eli and Victor, turns into confusion, a little hatred and a sense that really, EOs are wrong and unnatural (on Eli’s part, anyway). The present story in Vicious takes place over two days, while the past talks about events ten years prior. I would love to read more in this world; to know what happens after the end – because oh, what an end! – and get another glimpse into the characters lives.

ARC received at BEA 2013 through an author signing.

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.

Reviews: Memoirs of a Goldfish & Memoirs of a Hamster by Devin Scillian & Tim Bowers

Memoirs of a Goldfish Memoirs of a Goldfish
by Devin Scillian & Tim Bowers

ISBN-13: 9-781585-365074
Publication: April 2010 from Sleeping Bear Press (Scholastic)
Source: bought (Scholastic Book Fair)
Rating: 5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I loved it!

With his bowl to himself, Goldfish loves his life…until one day…

A personal account from a goldfish on life in his bowl as other intruders crowd him.

Memoirs of a Hamster Memoirs of a Hamster
by Devin Scillian & Tim Bowers

ISBN-13: 9-781585-368310
Publication: May 2013 from Sleeping Bear Press (Scholastic)
Source: bought
Rating: 5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I loved it!

Seymour the hamster has the perfect life. He has a spacious cage, a constant food supply, and a FuzzyBoy 360 exercise wheel that lets him run to his heart’s content. Life could not be better. Or could it? When Pearl the cat tells Seymour of the goodies beyond the safe confines of his cage, he starts to think he’s missing out. And out is the new in! It’s only after Seymour is out of his cage that he begins to fully appreciate his safe and cozy home.

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Double review day! Memoirs of a Goldfish and Memoirs of a Hamster by Devin Scillian and illustrated by Tim Bowers are two of the cutest picture books I have read this year. I picked up Memoirs of a Goldfish at the fall Scholastic Book Fair at one of my schools and immediately fell in love with it. Imagine my happy face when I found out that a second book, Memoirs of a Hamster had been published earlier in the year! And in the spirit of complete honesty, no matter how much I love Goldfish, I love Hamster so much more.

In Memoirs of a Goldfish, our diary-writer goldfish spends his days swimming around his bowl. Sometimes twice. But then someone new arrives. And that someone new is just the beginning. Soon, the goldfish is crowded in his bowl with a crab, guppies, an angelfish and more. He’s so crowded and frustrated that he can’t wait to have his own bowl again. But it’s when he does get his own bowl again that he realizes he misses the others – they’ve become his family. In Memoirs of a Hamster, Seymour lives a very content life in his cage with yoghurt drops, his Fuzzyboy 360 wheel and cozy bedding. But Pearl the cat tempts him with outside the cage, describing the sun room full of yoghurt drops and a staircase made of sunflower seeds. Poor Seymour doesn’t realize Pearl has ulterior motives to getting him out of his cage. Seymour quickly realizes that his cage is perfect for him, and needs to get back home!

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Both books are beautifully illustrated (Seymour is adorable!) with large text for easy reading. The stories are so funny – especially when dealing with Pearl (the big fat liar) and all the new fish and sea creatures that come to live in the goldfish bowl. When reading them out loud to my classes, I found that Memoirs of a Hamster received more laughs but that Memoirs of a Goldfish enabled more discussion on what would happen next and why. Both are perfect for a unit on journal writing and reading them together in one session is the best. Devin Scillian and Tim Bowers have written and illustrated two fantastic books that allow a humourous look at not taking what you have for granted (Seymour and his home), and that new people and situations are often good for you (the goldfish not being alone anymore). I definitely recommend picking these both up if you haven’t already!

Review: Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen & Kevin Hawkes

Library Lion Library Lion
by Michelle Kundsen & Kevin Hawkes

ISBN-13: 9-780763-637842
Publication: July 2006 from Candlewick Press
Source: bought
Rating: 5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I loved it!

Miss Merriweather, the head librarian, is very particular about rules in the library. No running allowed. And you must be quiet. But when a lion comes to the library one day, no one is sure what to do. There aren’t any rules about lions in the library. And, as it turns out, this lion seems very well suited to library visiting. His big feet are quiet on the library floor. He makes a comfy backrest for the children at story hour. And he never roars in the library, at least not anymore. But when something terrible happens, the lion quickly comes to the rescue in the only way he knows how.

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One of my favourite picture book discoveries this past year is Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen. Beautifully illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, Library Lion is the perfect read aloud.

The story revolves around a lion who frequents a library. He helps the head librarian Miss Merriweather around the library and stays for story hour with the children. After his first visit when he roared very loudly at the end of story hour because he wanted to hear another, the lion was informed of the rules and allowed to stay as long as he didn’t break them (no running, no roaring or loud noises) – and he never does. Until there’s an accident and he needs to get help. The story lends itself wonderfully to being read aloud to a group of children, especially if you’re like me and like to be animated when reading out loud. From Miss Merriweather’s soft librarian voice to the lion’s hearty roar I love bringing this book to life (and kids always like helping out with the roaring, too).

5 heart

Library Lion is an exquisitely told story about rules, rule breaking, friendship and even jealousy. Students and children will easily connect with the rules of the library and understand that the lion has to abide by those rules. But they also immediately understand why he breaks the no roaring rule and why it’s maybe not a bad thing. Michelle Knudsen and Kevin Hawkes have created a brilliant story – one that I will keep around for years to come and will happily introduce to every class.

Review: Stuck by Oliver Jeffers

Stuck Stuck
by Oliver Jeffers

ISBN-13: 9-780399-257377
Publication: November 2011 from Philomel
Source: bought
Rating: 5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I loved it!

When Floyd’s kite gets stuck in a tree, he’s determined to get it out. But how? Well, by knocking it down with his shoe, of course. But strangely enough, it too gets stuck. And the only logical course of action…is to throw his other shoe. Only now it’s stuck! Surely there must be something he can use to get his kite unstuck. An orangutan? A boat? His front door? Yes, yes, and yes.

And that’s only the beginning.

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Stuck by Oliver Jeffers is an absolute joy to read. I came across it while browsing my local indie children’s book store Woozles, and immediately fell in love. Stuck was my first foray into Oliver Jeffers’ work, but it was not my last!

In the beginning, Floyd’s kite gets stuck in a tree. So of course, he throws his shoe at it to try and knock it down. But his shoe gets stuck! I can completely connect with Floyd in the fact that my brother and I roofed or treed any number of shoes (or tennis balls!) trying to knock loose other items we had thrown up on said roof or tree. Unlike us, though, when Floyd’s shoe gets stuck he doesn’t go looking for mom or dad – he keeps trying. Unfortunately, nothing seems to work. And those fireman and the mailman will certainly be missed. The whale probably wants to head back to the ocean, and his neighbour’s house takes up a lot of tree space.

5 heart Primary and grade one students love Stuck and are quick to shout out predictions when Floyd brings out a ladder, and later a saw. Hilarity ensues when he does not use either item as intended! The illustrations are wonderfully done and compliment the handwritten-style narrative (complete with crossed out misspellings and different sizes for emphasis). I definitely highly recommend picking up Stuck for any house or classroom, and check out The Incredible Book Eating Boy while you’re at it! Oliver Jeffers does not disappoint.

Review: The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt & Oliver Jeffers

The Day the Crayons Quit The Day the Crayons Quit
by Drew Daywalt, Oliver Jeffers (illustrations)

ISBN-13: 9-780399-255373
Publication: June 2013 from Philomel
Source: BEA 2013
Rating: 5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I loved it!

Poor Duncan just wants to color. But when he opens his box of crayons, he finds only letters, all saying the same thing: We quit!

Beige is tired of playing second fiddle to Brown. Blue needs a break from coloring all that water, while Pink just wants to be used. Green has no complaints, but Orange and Yellow are no longer speaking to each other.

What is Duncan to do?

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I absolutely adore The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers. Duncan opens up his box of crayons and sees letters saying that they have all quit! All the basic colours are represented, from red to blue to green and purple, including white, peach and beige with black and grey interspersed with pink, yellow and orange.

Yellow and Orange are feuding over who is the real colour of the sun, while Purple just wants Duncan to start colouring inside the lines. Peach can’t leave the crayon box, Blue is shrinking, Red feels overworked and Beige wants more work! Each crayon has a neat little letter telling Duncan exactly why they have quit and asking him to please fix the problem. Oliver Jeffers’ illustrations match the story perfectly, showcasing drawings close to what a child’s might look like, and providing handwritten letters rather than traditional typed text (in the colour of each crayon, too!).

5 heart

I’ve read The Day the Crayons Quit to grades primary to four and the students always love it. It promotes great discussion about creative choices in both drawings and colour choosing, how Duncan can help his crayons and Peach always gets the most uproarious laughter – especially from the primary grade! (Mind you, I then find peach crayon wrappings all over the floor and their desks. Read the book – you’ll see why!) This book will definitely be a staple in any of my classrooms, and I highly recommend it to any teacher, parent or anyone just looking for a cute and funny picture book.