Review: Sylvie

Title: Sylvie
Author: Sylvie Kantorovitz
Genre: Middle Grade, Graphic Novel, Memoir
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Format: Ebook
Release Date: February 9, 2021
Rating: ★★★★

goodreads-badge-add-plus-71eae69ca0307d077df66a58ec068898

Goodreads Synopsis:

In a wise and witty graphic memoir, a young artist finds her path apart from the expectations of those around her.

Sylvie lives in a school in France. Her father is the principal, and her home is an apartment at the end of a hallway of classrooms. As a young child, Sylvie and her brother explore this most unusual kingdom, full of small mysteries and quirky surprises. But in middle and high school, life grows more complicated. Sylvie becomes aware of her parents’ conflicts, the complexities of shifting friendships, and what it means to be the only Jewish family in town. She also begins to sense that her perceived “success” relies on the pursuit of math and science—even though she loves art. In a funny and perceptive graphic memoir, author-illustrator Sylvie Kantorovitz traces her first steps as an artist and teacher. The text captures her poignant questioning and her blossoming confidence, while the droll illustrations depict her making art as both a means of solace and self-expression. An affecting portrait of a unique childhood, Sylvie connects the ordinary moments of growing up to a life rich in hope and purpose.

Review:

Sylvie was born in Morocco and moved to France as a child when her dad got a job as a principal. They lived in the teacher’s school where he worked. Sylvie and her younger brother loved to explore the school. As she got older, Sylvie started to notice her parents arguing and became aware of being different, since they were the only Jewish family in the town. Sylvie was passionate about drawing, but her mom wanted her to have a more secure job, which forced her to study math and science even though she didn’t want to. This was a great coming of age memoir.

This graphic novel consisted of a variety of anecdotes from Sylvie’s life. There were moments with her friends and her siblings. Each chapter was like a snapshot of a moment in her life, which all added up to her childhood.

I loved the illustrations in this graphic novel. They looked like innocent drawings by a child, though they were more detailed than a child’s art. Since they had a childlike simplicity, it reinforced the theme of Sylvie’s childhood.

This is a beautiful graphic memoir!

Thank you Candlewick Press for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

What to read next:

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Have you read Sylvie? What did you think of it?

Review: Girl Haven

Title: Girl Haven
Author: Lilah Sturges, Meaghan Carter (illustrator)
Genre: Middle Grade, Graphic Novel
Publisher: Oni Press
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Format: Ebook
Release Date: February 16, 2021
Rating: ★★★★★

goodreads-badge-add-plus-71eae69ca0307d077df66a58ec068898

Goodreads Synopsis:

When seventh-grader Ash, his crush Eleanor, and their friends are transported to a girls-only imaginary world, Ash must come to terms with the fact that he may actually be a transgender girl. Full of wonder, humor, and heart, Girl Haven is the newest original story from the author of Lumberjanes.

Three years ago, Ash’s mom, Kristin, left home and never came back. Now, Ash lives in the house where Kristin grew up. All of her things are there. Her old room, her old clothes, and the shed, where she spent her childhood creating a fantasy world called Koretris.

Ash knows all about Koretris: how it’s a haven for girls, with no men or boys allowed, and filled with fanciful landscapes and creatures. When Ash’s friends decide to try going to Koretris, using one of Kristin’s spellbooks, Ash doesn’t think anything will happen. But the spell works, and Ash discovers that the world Kristin created is actually a real place, with real inhabitants and very real danger.

But if Koretris is real, why is Ash there? Everyone has always called Ash a boy. Ash uses he/him pronouns. Shouldn’t the spell have kept Ash out? And what does it mean if it let Ash in?

Review:

Seventh-grader Ash joins the Pride club at school. The club consists of friends Eleanor, Chloe, and Junebug. After the club meeting, Ash invites his new friends to his house to show them his mom’s art. His mom created a world called Koretris in her art and stories when she was a child. Koretris is a world filled with talking rabbits, where only girls exist. His mom disappeared years ago. Ash and his friends recite a spell from the spell book she created, which transports them to Koretris. Since boys aren’t allowed in Koretris, Ash questions whether he is meant to be a boy or a girl while also searching for his mom in this fantasy world.

This was a fun fantasy story. It’s a common storyline to be transported into a fantasy world, such as Narnia or Wonderland. I would have loved to go into the worlds of my favourite novels as a kid, so I think this story is relateable.

This story also explored what it means to be a boy or a girl. Ash had always felt more like a girl, but since everyone said that he was a boy, he figured he must be a boy. He really began to question it when he was transported to the world that was only meant for girls. This shows readers that it’s okay to question your feelings and figure out who you really are, not who others say you have to be.

I loved this middle grade graphic novel!

Thank you Oni Press for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

What to read next:

Sheets by Brenna Thummler

Mooncakes by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker

Have you read Girl Haven? What did you think of it?

Review: Lemonade Code

Title: Lemonade Code
Author: Jarod Pratt, Jey Odin
Genre: Middle Grade, Graphic Novel
Publisher: Oni Press
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Format: Ebook
Release Date: January 19, 2021
Rating: ★★★★

goodreads-badge-add-plus-71eae69ca0307d077df66a58ec068898

Goodreads Synopsis:

This is a fully illustrated graphic novel about a middle school super genius who starts a lemonade stand to fund his ultimate top-secret project, only to find unexpected competition right across the street when the new kid starts a rival stand.

Robbie Reynolds isn’t just a genius. He’s a super SUPER genius! But he doesn’t have the cash to fund his ultimate (and top secret) project. That’s why he’s opening a lemonade stand. Not just any lemonade stand: this one is state of the art, and his automatista can make you any flavor of lemonade your heart desires! Bacon, salsa, potato salad, dirty diaper—anything you want.

Unfortunately, Robbie isn’t the only one in the Lemonade Hustle. Daphne Du-Ri, his new across-the-street neighbor, has her own setup going, and something about her lemonade is resonating with people in ways Robbie’s can’t. Before the week is over, Robbie and Daphne are in a full-on Lemonade War.

Review:

Robbie is a genius and a mad scientist. He created a robot that could make lemonade with any flavor imaginable. As soon as he opens his lemonade stand, another stand opens across the street by a new girl, Daphne. Once one of his customers tries her lemonade, everyone leaves Robbie’s stand to support Daphne. However, after Robbie’s mother tries Daphne’s lemonade, he realizes there is something in her drink that makes people become obsessed with it. Robbie has to use his coding and mad scientist skills to figure out what is happening with Daphne’s lemonade.

This story started out really strong. It’s set in the future, where people use hoverboards and robots. It was still relatable since the kids created a lemonade stand, which is such a common activity for children. The story got complicated when Robbie had to use code to figure out the secret behind the lemonade. I don’t know much about coding, but I’m sure kids who are interested in it will like this story.

This graphic novel was a little text heavy. I liked that there was a lot of text and description because sometimes graphic novels don’t have enough words. However, this may have worked better as a novel. I found some of the technical coding parts confusing and wordy. If there was simpler language or if it was explained more, I would have gotten more out of this story.

This is a great graphic novel for middle grade readers who are interested in coding.

Thank you Oni Press for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

What to read next:

Secret Coders by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes

Last Pick by Jason Walz

Have you read Lemonade Code? What did you think of it?

Review: Amina’s Voice (Amina’s Voice #1)

Title: Amina’s Voice (Amina’s Voice #1)
Author: Hena Khan
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Publisher: Salaam Reads
Source: Library
Format: Ebook
Release Date: March 14, 2017
Rating: ★★★★★

goodreads-badge-add-plus-71eae69ca0307d077df66a58ec068898

Goodreads Synopsis:

Amina has never been comfortable in the spotlight. She is happy just hanging out with her best friend, Soojin. Except now that she’s in middle school everything feels different. Soojin is suddenly hanging out with Emily, one of the “cool” girls in the class, and even talking about changing her name to something more “American.” Does Amina need to start changing too? Or hiding who she is to fit in? While Amina grapples with these questions, she is devastated when her local mosque is vandalized.

Review:

Middle schooler Amina is a great singer but she doesn’t want to be in the spotlight. When her best friend, Soojin, starts spending time with Emily, a popular girl who has teased Amina in the past, Amina feels left out. Soojin is also planning on changing her name to sound more American, even though their unique names are what drew Amina and Soojin together in the first place. Amina tries to deal with these changes, while her community is facing the aftermath of her mosque being vandalized.

This story was very well developed. The characters felt like real people because they each had a full background. Each character also had their own storyline, despite it being a fairly short middle grade story. Amina had different challenges at home, school, and her mosque. At home, Amina needed to follow her parents’ rules and impress her uncle who was visiting from Pakistan. At school, Amina had to deal with her changing relationship with her best friend. At her mosque, Amina witnessed an attack on her community. Each of these situations were realistic and relatable for readers, regardless of their religion.

There were some upsetting things that happened in this story. Amina was bullied in the past because she was different from her classmates. She questioned her religion and her hobbies when she discovered that her love of music may conflict with her religious beliefs. Her mosque was attacked, which rallied her greater community together. These questions behind religion and attacks need to be addressed in children’s fiction to learn about other people’s experiences.

I really enjoyed this middle grade novel and I’m excited to read the upcoming sequel!

What to read next:

Once Upon an Eid by S.K. Ali, Aisha Saeed (editors)

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Have you read Amina’s Voice? What did you think of it?

Review: Unleashed (Jinxed #2)

Title: Unleashed (Jinxed #2)
Author: Amy McCulloch
Genre: Middle Grade, Science Fiction
Publisher: Sourcebooks Young Readers
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Format: Ebook
Release Date: January 5, 2021
Rating: ★★★★★

goodreads-badge-add-plus-71eae69ca0307d077df66a58ec068898

Goodreads Synopsis:

The Golden Compass for the digital age in this action-packed sequel to Jinxed.

When Lacey Chu wakes up in a hospital room with no memory of how she got there, she knows something went really wrong. And with her cat baku, Jinx, missing in action and MONCHA, the company behind the invention of the robot pet, threatening her family, she isn’t sure who to turn to for answers.

When Lacey is expelled and her mom starts acting strangely after the latest update from MONCHA, Lacey and her friends work together to get to the bottom of it and discover a sinister plot at the heart of the corporation.

Lacey must use all her skills if she has a chance of stopping MONCHA from carrying out their plans. But can she take on the biggest tech company in North America armed with only a level 1 robot beetle and her friends at her side?

Review:

Lacey Chu wakes up in a hospital room with no memory of how she got there. Her baku, her personal digital pet, is missing. After Lacey is discharged from the hospital, her mother starts behaving strangely and doesn’t remember their previous conversations. Then, Lacey is expelled from her elite school. An update to everyone’s bakus, which are run by the company MONCHA, is reprogramming the way people think. Now no one can see the problems with this company taking over everything. Lacey and her friends have to take on MONCHA on their own to save everyone from being reprogrammed by this software update.

This story was very timely with the way that the young students had to stand up to make a change in the real world. Lacey is the one who figured out what was happening with their bakus and how to fix them. Her and her friends had the courage to stand up to a large corporation, and since they were underestimated by the leaders, they were more successful than the adults who went against the company.

Lacey is an inspiring character. She’s very smart and determined to do what’s right. She had to go through some tough challenges, such as when her dad left suddenly when she was a kid and when her mom started acting strangely after getting the update from the company. Lacey also had to be creative with figuring out how to get around the update that would remove her memory of what was going on. She was a fast thinker and strong character.

This is a great conclusion to the Jinxed series!

Thank you Sourcebooks Young Readers for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

What to read next:

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel by Sheela Chari

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

Other books in the series:

Have you read Unleashed? What did you think of it?

Review: The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel

Title: The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel
Author: Sheela Chari
Genre: Middle Grade, Mystery
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Format: Ebook
Release Date: October 6, 2020
Rating: ★★★★

goodreads-badge-add-plus-71eae69ca0307d077df66a58ec068898

Goodreads Synopsis:

Based on the Peabody Award-winning podcast, this tech-filled adventure series pits intrepid Mars Patel and his outcast friends against a brilliant, enigmatic billionaire as they race to figure out why kids are disappearing from their school.

Mars Patel’s friend Aurora has disappeared! His teachers are clueless. His mom is stressed out about her jobs. But Mars refuses to give up–after all, his own dad disappeared when Mars was a toddler, before he and Ma moved to Puget Sound from India. Luckily, Mars has a group of loyal friends eager to help–smart Toothpick, strong and stylish JP, and maybe-telepathic Caddie. The clues seem to point toward eccentric tech genius (and Mars’s hero) Oliver Pruitt, whose popular podcast now seems to be commenting on their quest! But when the friends investigate Pruitt’s mysterious, elite school, nothing is as it seems–and anyone could be deceiving them. Slick science, corporate conspiracies, and an endearingly nerdy protagonist make this a fresh, exciting sci-fi adventure.

Review:

Mars Patel and his friends are brilliant but also outcasts at school. They are constantly correcting teachers and things around school, which lands them in detention. One of their friends has been missing for days, but no one is really worried about it. When another friend disappears suddenly, Mars knows something is wrong. Everything seems to be connected to Pruitt Prep, an elite school which accepts gifted students. Mars is obsessed with the podcast that Oliver Pruitt, the creator of Pruitt Prep, creates. He hears clues to finding his friends on the podcast, which sends him and his friends on an adventure.

I wasn’t familiar with the podcast that inspired this book before reading it, but I’ll have to look it up now. This story was thrilling and creepy right from the start. Mars’s friends disappeared without a trace, including their home phones being disconnected and their homes being emptied. When Mars would get a warning from the podcast that something would happen, I got goosebumps, because it was like the podcast was speaking directly to him.

The story ended on a bit of a cliffhanger. The final chapters were very intense, but not as creepy as the beginning of the story. It felt like a new story was beginning on the final pages. I would love to see what happens to Mars Patel next.

This is a great middle grade novel.

Thank you Candlewick Press for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

What to read next:

Whispering Pines by Heidi Lane and Kati Bartkowski

Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega

Have you read The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel? What did you think of it?

Review: Screech!

Title: Screech!
Author: Charis Cotter, Genevieve Simms (illustrator)
Genre: Middle Grade, Paranormal, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Nimbus Publishing
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Format: Ebook
Release Date: August 31, 2020
Rating: ★★★★

goodreads-badge-add-plus-71eae69ca0307d077df66a58ec068898

Goodreads Synopsis:

The whole world seemed to tilt at that moment, like a painting on a wall that gets knocked a little crooked. Everything she had known as real up until now was slightly altered, and she seemed to be standing on the edge of a huge, dark, trembling world that was just a little different than it had been one minute before. Ghosts were real.

There is no dark like the Newfoundland dark. These ominous words beckon young readers onward in this spooky collection of ghost stories by celebrated ghost story-teller and award-winning middle-grade author Charis Cotter. Reimagined from family stories told across Newfoundland and passed down over generations, these 10 spine-tingling tales traverse centuries and introduce readers to the Rock’s nooks and crannies. From a ghostly blueberry-picker on the barrens to a visit from the notorious Old Hag, from a mysterious ballet troupe in a St. John’s mansion to a haunted house in an outport community on the cusp of resettlement, these stories bring the island of Newfoundland to vibrant new life (and death) as the thread of these years-old yarns is unravelled for a whole new generation. 

Featuring ghostly black-and-white illustrations from Newfoundland artist Genevieve Simms, as well as an overview of the Newfoundland storytelling tradition, and a Story Behind the Story for each tale including context on the story’s history, its original teller, its featured ghost, and setting, along with tips for spooky storytelling and a Glossary of Newfoundland terms, Screech! is equal parts eerie and educational, making it a riveting read as well as a great resource for budding historians and storytellers.

Review:

This book has a collection of ghost stories from Newfoundland. These stories are based on real events from the last few centuries. Newfoundland has a long history of shipwrecks, illnesses, and hard living conditions. These elements created the atmosphere for ghost stories.

One thing that I loved about these stories was that after each story, there was a description of the origins of the story. The location of the story was described, because every town in Newfoundland has it’s own history and different living conditions. The type of ghost was described, because some were ghost stories that have appeared throughout time, such as a loved one appearing at their time of death. The author also talked about where she heard the story. I loved this historical explanation of the stories.

This is a great collection of ghost stories from Newfoundland!

Thank you Nimbus Publishing for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

What to read next:

The Swallow: A Ghost Story by Charis Cotter

Have you read Screech!? What did you think of it?

Review: Howl’s Moving Castle

Title: Howl’s Moving Castle
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Publisher: HarperCollins
Source: Purchased
Format: Paperback
Release Date: March 5, 2009 (first published April 1986)
Rating: ★★★

goodreads-badge-add-plus-71eae69ca0307d077df66a58ec068898

Goodreads Synopsis:

“How about making a bargain with me?” said the demon. “I’ll break your spell if you agree to break this contract I’m under.”

In the land of Ingary, where seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, Sophie Hatter attracts the unwelcome attention of the Witch of the Waste, who puts a curse on her. Determined to make the best of things, Sophie travels to the one place where she might get help – the moving castle which hovers on the nearby hills.

But the castle belongs to the dreaded Wizard Howl whose appetite, they say, is satisfied only by the hearts of young girls…

Review:

Sophie Hatter’s family runs a hat shop. When her father dies, her stepmother makes plans for Sophie and her sisters. Her sisters are sent away to apprenticeships, but Sophie is kept at home to run the hat store. One day, Sophie encounters the Witch of the Waste, who puts a curse on her which makes Sophie look like an old woman. Sophie runs away from home so her family doesn’t see what happens to her. She goes to the castle that moves around town and belongs to the wizard named Howl. Sophie makes a deal with a captured demon in Howl’s castle to release him from his curse if he can release her from hers.

I’ve heard a lot of good things about this story, and I really wanted to love it, but I just didn’t like it. I found the story complicated and confusing with lots of similar characters. One thing that I noticed from the beginning was that I wished the story was about Sophie’s sisters instead. They seemed to have an interesting story to tell. When they were sent away to their apprenticeships, they made a spell to switch places. I kept hoping more of their story would be told, but they only made brief appearances in the story.

Unfortunately, this story didn’t work for me.

What to read next:

Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Have you read Howl’s Moving Castle? What did you think of it?

Review: No Ordinary Boy: Dragons, Magic, and King Arthur

Title: No Ordinary Boy: Dragons, Magic, and King Arthur
Author: Tracey Mayhew
Genre: Middle Grade
Publisher: Sweet Cherry Publishing
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Format: Ebook
Release Date: October 1, 2020
Rating: ★★★★

goodreads-badge-add-plus-71eae69ca0307d077df66a58ec068898

Goodreads Synopsis:

All Merlin knows is the village where he mixes potions for wary customers, and dreams strange dreams that sometimes come true. Then a mysterious hooded man appears, seeking a boy with no mortal father, and Merlin is taken far away, to a crumbling tower and a ruthless king. To a place where his is not the only magic. 

About The Tales from the Round Table series: This engaging collection introduces the legend of Merlin, King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table to a new generation of readers aged 7+.

Review:

Merlin is a boy who lives by himself in a small village. He is known as a healer with special powers. One day, a group of knights arrive in the village, looking for a mortal boy who did not have a mortal father. Merlin fits that description. He is brought to the king to save his crumbling castle.

I have read three different adaptations of the King Arthur and Merlin story this year. Each one has been for a different audience and told the story in a different way.

This story is perfect for early middle grade readers. It was fast paced, but short. There is so much material for the story of Merlin, so I wished the story was a little longer. There were exciting scenes, which included magic and dragons, that will keep young readers entertained. It’s a great introduction to the story of Merlin.

Thank you Sweet Cherry Publishing for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

What to read next:

The Dark Sorceress by Tracey Mayhew

Twelve Rebel Kings by Tracey Mayhew

Have you read No Ordinary Boy? What did you think of it?

Review: A World Without Princes (The School for Good and Evil #2)

Title: A World Without Princes (The School for Good and Evil #2)
Author: Soman Chainani
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Publisher: HarperCollins
Source: Purchased
Format: Hardcover
Release Date: April 15, 2014
Rating: ★★★★★

goodreads-badge-add-plus-71eae69ca0307d077df66a58ec068898

Goodreads Synopsis:

After saving themselves and their fellow students from a life pitched against one another, Sophie and Agatha are back home again, living happily ever after. But life isn’t exactly a fairytale. When Agatha secretly wishes she’d chosen a different happy ending with Prince Tedros, the gates to the School for Good and Evil open once again. But Good and Evil are no longer enemies and Princes and Princesses may not be what they seem, as new bonds form and old ones shatter.

Review:

Agatha and Sophie finished their fairy tale and returned to their home of Gavaldon from The School for Good and Evil. One day, Agatha wishes that she had kissed her prince, Tedros, at the end of their fairy tale. That wish causes their happily ever after at the end of their fairy tale to be erased, sending them back to The School for Good and Evil to find their ending. However, this time the school has changed. Since they didn’t end their fairy tale with a prince kissing a princess, the people at the school have realized that fairy tales don’t need princes to be complete. The school now separates the girls and the boys. The return of Agatha and Sophie makes everything spin out of control, leading to an epic battle between the girls and boys.

This story looked at the gendered stereotypes in fairy tales. In a typical fairy tale, the prince and princess end up together at the end. In Sophie and Agatha’s fairy tale, neither of them needed a prince, because they ended up together. This would be fine, but it shows that the boys aren’t needed. That left all the princes wondering what they were supposed to do. I loved that this flipped the gender stereotype and explored a new type of fairy tale.

This story also explored appearances. Appearances play an important part in fairy tales too. The characters in fairy tales assume that an outward appearance is true, though it often isn’t. A woman may trust an old lady, who turns out to be a witch who poisons her. A girl may trust the woman she thinks is her grandmother, who turns out to be a wolf. Some of the characters in this story appeared to be one gender, but they were another gender. The characters blindly trusted each other’s appearances, even though it really didn’t make sense. This was a clever way to play with the gender stereotypes by changing appearances.

I loved this story even more than the first one! It finished on a cliffhanger, so I can’t wait to read the next one.

What to read next:

The Last Ever After (The School for Good and Evil #3) by Soman Chainani

The Wishing Spell (The Land of Stories #1) by Chris Colfer

Other books in the series:

Have you read A World Without Princes? What did you think of it?