Book Review: The January Stars

The January Stars – Kate Constable – Allen & Unwin – Published 31 March 2020

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Synopsis

When twelve-year old Clancy and her fourteen-year-old sister, Tash, visit their Pa at his aged-care facility, they have no idea that the three of them will soon set out on an intrepid adventure.

Along the way there are many challenges for Tash and Clancy to overcome and in the process, they discover their own resourcefulness and resilience and demonstrate their heartfelt love for their grandfather.

My thoughts

A delightful Australian middle-grade fiction, The January Stars combines a heist (sort of) with a magical (maybe?) journey across Melbourne, that results in a extraordinary story about family, listening and the stars.

When 12-year-old Clancy’s parents leave on an emergency family trip to New Zealand, she and her older sister Tash convince their parents they will be fine to stay with their aunt. But when their aunt also leaves on a trip, the girls find themselves alone. They decide to visit their grandfather in his aged-care facility and thanks to a slight incident with a cat, an open door, runaway residents and an angry nurse, the girls find themselves on the run with their Pa. The girls must pool their resources and shelve their constant fighting if they are going to outrun the growing amount of adults that seem to be chasing them, including an irate real estate agent and the police.

I was totally hooked by the idea of a story in which two young girls steal their grandfather from a nursing home. It was utterly delightful from start to finish. Clancy and Tash manage to accidentally break their Pa out and he couldn’t be happier. After suffering a stroke, Godfrey can’t speak much and relies on a wheelchair to get around but he is plenty able to communicate his happiness to run away with the girls. They start by visiting their old family home and venture from there as various adults challenge them.

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Book Review: We’re Stuck

We’re Stuck – Sue deGennaro – Scholastic Australia – Published 1 April 2019

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Synopsis

When Turtle races into the lift of Building 24, there is a nod and a blink and a step to the side. A grunt and a sigh and a lean to the right. But what happens when the lift stops moving?

Crocodile has a meeting to get to. And Giraffe has a doctors appointment. And Turtle really, really needs to get to the shop.

My thoughts

A beautiful story about community and connections in a busy, moving world. We’re Stuck forces its characters to stop and connect. Together, they must work through their problems and they discover they actually have everything they need. They also join forces to brighten someone else’s day.


Werestuck

Do you know your neighbours? Many of us, especially those living in crowded cities and multi-storey apartment buildings pass one another each day without stopping to say hello or share names or stories.

In We’re Stuck, one day, Turtle is racing to the lift. He has a very important list and he needs to get to the shops and back to his mum. In Building 24, the residents often meet in the lift. They shuffle and move over to let in Crocodile, who needs to get to a meeting, Giraffe who is on the way to the doctors, Lion is due for a haircut and Hippo needs to get the cafe open. But then, suddenly the lift stops. The residents of Building of 24 are STUCK! Much commotion ensues. They are busy and important people with important places to go to and people to meet. But Turtle sits quietly and sadly says it’s his birthday. The others in the lift quickly rally. Balloons made from rubber gloves and fishing line are stung and paper hats are made. But the group also discover that, if they work together, they can solve the others’ problems. Doctor Crocodile takes a look at Giraffe, and whale offers to cut Lion’s hair.

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Book Review: Brave Like That

Brave Like That – Lindsey Stoddard – HarperCollins – Published June 2 2020

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Synopsis

Cyrus Olson’s dad is a hero—Northfield’s former football star and now one of their finest firefighters. Everyone expects Cyrus to follow in his dad’s record-breaking footsteps, and he wishes they were right—except he’s never been brave like that. But this year, with the help of a stray dog, a few new friends, a little bit of rhythm, and a lot of nerve, he may just discover that actually…he is.

Lauded as “remarkable” by the New York Times Book Review, Lindsey Stoddard’s heartfelt stories continue to garner critical acclaim, and her latest novel will have fans new and old rooting for Cyrus and Parker’s special bond and the courage it helps them both to find.

My thoughts

Brave Like That is the same kind of feel-good, heartwarming, uplifting book as Wonder. Brave Like That is utterly delightful to read and I can’t wait to share this with our middle-grade readers.

Cyrus knows very well the story of the night he was found on the steps of the firehouse. He knows how his father had every intention of finding him a new home but decided to keep him. Cyrus has grown up in that firehouse, just as much a part of the fire crew as his dad and the other firefighters. When he discovers a dog, which he names Parker, on the steps of the firehouse, on the eve of his own discovery, he knows that dog belongs with him. He just doesn’t know how to convince his dad, nor how to tell him that he doesn’t actually like football and he would never be brave enough to actually be a fireman. With football season just starting, a new student in school who is being bullied, changes in his friendship group, and the ultimate desire to fight for Parker, Cyrus will have to discover if he can be the kind of brave that stands up for what is right.

I adored everything about this book. It is so easy to read, the story just unfolds and I didn’t want to put it down. There are so many important messages in this book and while they are pretty clearly outlined by Cyrus, the book doesn’t feel self-righteous. Cyrus learns a lot in the book and I was cheering him on every step of the way.

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Book Review: What Grew In Larry’s Garden

What Grew in Larry’s Garden – Laura Alary and Kass Reich (ill) – Hachette Book Group – Published 7 April 2020

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Synopsis

Grace thinks Larry’s garden is one of the wonders of the world. In his tiny backyard next door to hers, Larry grows the most extraordinary vegetables. Grace loves helping him – watering and weeding, planting and pruning, hoeing and harvesting. And whenever there’s a problem – like bugs burrowing into the carrots or slugs chewing the lettuce – Grace and Larry solve it together. Grace soon learns that Larry has big plans for the vegetables in his special garden. And when that garden faces its biggest problem yet, Grace follows Larry’s example to find the perfect solution.

My thoughts

In this story about a little girl and a man with a garden sits a message about community and helping people to grow and flourish. Inspired by a true story, What Grew in Larry’s Garden is a book that shares a love of nature, problem solving and kindness.

Bright but soft illustrations bring the story to life in greens, browns and splashes of bright red watercolour.

There is much to cherish about this book. Initially it seems a simple story about a young girl who enjoys gardening with her older neighbour. I love the cross-generational friendship and the way the pair work together to creatively and kindly solve the problems they come across in their garden from bugs to squirrels. The tomato plants they grow together have a big future, though, and that’s where the true story comes into the book. Larry is a teacher and he grows tomato plants to share with his students. He then shares with Grace the letters they write to others as they give their tomato plants away. From overcoming broken friendships, sharing small acts of kindness, or giving thanks for service. The author shares a note at the back of the book explaining the inspiration of the book and how Larry’s work with his students and the giving away of tomato plants helped to grow a community and possibility within those students.

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Book Review: The Spirit of Springer

The Spirit of Springer: The Real-Life Rescue of an Orphaned Orca – Amanda Abler and Levi Hastings (ill) – Little Bigfoot – Published 24 March 2020

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Synopsis

In 2002, a killer whale calf was discovered swimming alone in Puget Sound. This picture book follows the true story of her identification as a member of the A4 pod, a family of Northern Resident orcas living off the coast of British Columbia, and the team of scientists who worked together against all odds to save her from starvation and reunite her with her family.

The challenges of capturing Springer, transporting her north from Puget Sound to Canadian waters, and coordinating her release to facilitate a hopeful acceptance back into her family are brought to life.

My thoughts

The Spirit of Springer is a delightful story that retells the true events of the rescue and successful release of killer whale calf, Springer. The soft illustrations bring the events of the story to life. It’s a detailed and compelling story.

The writing does a fantastic job of placing the reader directly in the story, and setting the scene. The book is told from the perspective of the humans that interacted with Springer, from the ferry worker who spotter her alone to the scientists who worked to reunite her with her family. While this was a project that drew many people together, this book focuses on the work of Dr David Huff, a veterinarian at the Vancouver Aquarium and Dr Lance Barrett-Lennard, a marine mammal scientist.

The book explains both the media attention Springer received, the concern of the public and the details of her rescue, rehabilitation and release. Built into the story are explanations of scientific terminology, like dialect.

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Book Review: Bringing Back the Wolves

Bringing Back the Wolves: How a Predator Restored an Ecosystem – Jude Isabella and Kim Smith (ill.) – Kids Can Press – Published 3 March 2020

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Synopsis

An unintended experiment in Yellowstone National Park, in which an ecosystem is devastated and then remarkably rehabilitated, provides crucial lessons about nature’s intricate balancing act.

In the 1800s, hunters were paid by the American government to eliminate threats to livestock on cattle ranches near Yellowstone National Park. They did such a good job that, by 1926, no gray wolf packs were left in the park. Over the following decades, virtually every other part of the park’s ecosystem was affected by the loss of the wolves — from the animals who were their prey, to the plants that were the food for that prey, to the streams that were sheltered by those plants — and the landscape was in distress. So, starting in 1995, in an attempt to reverse course, the government reintroduced gray wolves to the park. Over time, animal populations stabilized, waterways were restored and a healthy ecosystem was recreated across the land. It’s a striking transformation, and a fascinating tale of life’s complicated interdependencies.

My thoughts

Bringing Back the Wolves – How A Predator Restored An Ecosystem explains about the history of the wolf in the Yellow Stone National Park in the US. From the hunting of wolves in the 1800s and the result this had on the Park to the reintroduction of wolves in 1995, this book explores the impact of an apex predator and how the Park has changed since the wolves have returned.

There is a wonderful sense of nature fixing its self as this book clearly steps out the impact of the wolves. Bringing Back the Wolves does a fantastic job of clearly and simply articulating the complex relationships involved and the intricacies of the impacts.

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Book Review: A Galaxy of Sea Stars

A Galaxy of Sea Stars – Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo – Farrar, Straus and Giroux – Published 4 February 2020

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Synopsis

At a time when everything in her small town of Seaside, Rhode Island, seems like it’s changing, eleven-year-old Izzy Vitale wants things to stay the same. She wants her dad to start acting like he did before he was deployed to Afghanistan, she wants her mom to move back to the marina where they live, but most of all, she wants best friends – Piper and Zelda (dubbed the Sea Star Posse by their kindergarten teacher) – to stay best friends as they begin sixth grade at the regional middle school.

Then, Izzy’s father invites his former Army interpreter from Afghanistan and his whole family – including eleven-year-old Sitara — to move into the upstairs apartment at the marina. Izzy doesn’t know what to make of Sitara with her hijab and refusal to eat cafeteria food. She does know that her constant presence has become like a rogue wave disrupting the normally easy flow of the Sea Star Posse. But as Izzy gets to know Sitara, she can’t help but admire her self-confidence and pride in her Muslim faith. Little by little, Izzy begins to realize there exists a world much larger than her safe but insulated harbor in Seaside.

When hate messages start showing up at the girls school and at the marina, Izzy and Sitara team up to discover the source of the vandalism. But what Izzy ultimately learns, will force her to make a choice: remain silent and betray Sitara or speak up for what she knows is right – even if it means losing the Sea Star Posse forever.

My thoughts

A Galaxy of Sea Stars is middle grade fiction at its finest. These young girls are just discovering their independence but with these changes come challenges to long-held friendship, discovering things you never knew, looking at life differently and learning to look past your own experiences to consider the feelings of others.

Izzy and her two best friends are the Sea Stars, best friends since they were little. With a new school to navigate and new classes, Izzy is determined to keep the group together. When Izzy’s father invites the interpreter he worked with in Afghanistan and his family to move in, Izzy is worried. Why isn’t her mother moving back home and what will the Sea Stars say about Sitara, who is Izzy’s age and isn’t scared of standing out or explaining about her beliefs?

Izzy is an authentic young teen. She is struggling to balance what she knows and feels is right with trying desperately to hold onto what is comfortable and known in her life. She is right on the cusp of growing up – sometime sounding like a mature teen and other times reverting back to more childish displays of emotion (and sadly, even as an adult I could totally relate to these meltdowns). Growing up is hard, especially when navigating changes in schools, friendship and family circumstances. It’s something so many young people face today, especially family breakdown. Izzy wants her family to go back to the way it was and doesn’t understand why her mother can’t just come home. She also struggles to come to terms with the changes she has seen in her father since he has come back from serving in Afghanistan. These two points aren’t explored in too much depth, the focus of the story remains on other things, but Izzy does come to accept her mother’s choice, she loves and accepts her fathers, and her parents work harder at explaining things to Izzy and making her more comfortable with the new living arrangements.

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Book Review: Love From the Crayons

Love From The Crayons – Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers (ill.) – Penguin Workshop – Published 24 December 2019

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Synopsis

Love is yellow and orange. Because love is sunny and warm. Love is purple. Because it’s okay to love outside the lines.

My thoughts

From the creators of The Day The Crayons Quit and The Day The Crayons Came Home, comes a new title that features the same band of loveable crayons with a simple story about love.

Love From The Crayons is not as detailed or complex a story as the first two books. Rather, it is a simple book, with one or two lines of text per page that follows the same pattern “Love is brown…because sometimes love stinks”, starring the ironic crayons and matching crayon drawings.

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Book Review: Atlas of Ocean Adventures

Atlas of Ocean Adventures: A Collection of Natural Wonders, Marine Marvels and Undersea Antics from Across the Globe – Emily Hawkins and Lucy Letherland (illustrator) – Wide Eyed Editions – Published 5 November 2019

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Synopsis

Set your spirit of adventure free with this journey to the world’s great oceans, discovering the diversity of life that exists in the deep blue sea. Whether you’re travelling long haul with leatherback turtles across the Pacific, snoozing with sea otters or ice bathing with a walrus, this book celebrates the very prescient topic of the world’s oceans with Lucy Letherland’s animal characters. A natural history lesson in an adventure book, each spread features 10 captions and and facts about every destination.

My thoughts

The Atlas Of Ocean Adventures is the fifth of the Atlas of Adventure titles. This book focuses on the wonders of the sea, from Great White Sharks in the waters of South Africa to Walrus from Svalbard. Beautifully illustrated in soft colours, this book will entrance readers.

The Atlas of Ocean Adventures is divided into five sections: the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, Southern Ocean and Arctic Ocean. This is obviously not a comprehensive atlas, as only 32 animals are featured, but there is a nice range, including fish species, marine birds, and larger mammals. Each featured animal is given a double-page spread. With a full-colour illustration that provides the backdrop for the page, the information about the animal, usually an interesting point about its habitat or lifestyle is provided in a small paragraph and then added points are spread across the page. Also included are maps that show the locations of the animals.

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Book Review: Dear Sweet Pea

Dear Sweet Pea – Julie Murphy – Balzer+Bray – Published 1 October 2019

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Synopsis

Patricia “Sweet Pea” DiMarco wasn’t sure what to expect when her parents announced they were getting a divorce. She never could have imagined that they would have the “brilliant” idea of living in nearly identical houses on the same street. In the one house between them lives their eccentric neighbor Miss Flora Mae, the famed local advice columnist behind “Miss Flora Mae I?”

Dividing her time between two homes is not easy. And it doesn’t help that at school, Sweet Pea is now sitting right next to her ex–best friend, Kiera, a daily reminder of the friendship that once was. Things might be unbearable if Sweet Pea didn’t have Oscar—her new best friend—and her fifteen-pound cat, Cheese.

Then one day Flora leaves for a trip and asks Sweet Pea to forward her the letters for the column. And Sweet Pea happens to recognize the handwriting on one of the envelopes.

What she decides to do with that letter sets off a chain of events that will forever change the lives of Sweet Pea DiMarco, her family, and many of the readers of “Miss Flora Mae I?”

My thoughts

Dear Sweet Pea is the middle-grade debut from successful YA author Julie Murphy. Dear Sweet Pea is a delightful story about growing up, figuring your way through friendships, facing challenging family changes like divorce and the coming out of a parent, and finding your voice in the progression from middle school to high school.

When Sweet Pea’s parents announce their divorce and promise her nothing will change she didn’t expect them to set up nearly identical houses for her on the same street. The only thing between them is the house of Miss Flora Mae, who writes the local advice columns. When Miss Flora Mae goes away on a trip, she asks Sweet Pea to forward her letters to her, but Sweet Pea is drawn to the mystery of the letters and finds herself opening and responding to them herself.

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