Genre: Children's Lit

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Apr 18

The Pumpkin War Review

Book Reviews 0 ★★★★★

The Pumpkin War ReviewThe Pumpkin War by Cathleen Young
Published by Wendy Lamb Books on May 21, 2019
Genres: Children's Lit, Middle Grade
Pages: 192
Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World WideBuy on Amazon
Goodreads five-stars

"Cathleen Young's characters will forever have a place in my heart." --Holly Goldberg Sloan, author of Counting by 7s

Former best friends compete to see who can grow the biggest pumpkin and win the annual giant pumpkin race on the lake. A great pick for fans of Half a Chance and Gertie's Leap to Greatness.

At the end of every summer, Madeline Island hosts its famous pumpkin race. All summer, adults and kids across the island grow giant, 1000-pound pumpkins, then hollow one out, and paddle in it across the lake to the cheers of the entire town.

Twelve-year-old Billie loves to win; she has a bulletin board overflowing with first prize ribbons. Her best friend Sam doesn't care much about winning, or at least Billie didn't think so until last summer's race, when his pumpkin crashed into hers as she was about to cross the finish line, and he won. This summer, Billie is determined to get revenge by growing the best and biggest pumpkin, and beat Sam in the race. It's a tricky science to grow pumpkins, since weather, bugs and other critters can wipe out a crop. Then a surprise visit from a long lost relative shakes things up, and Billie begins to see her family, and her bond with Sam, in a new way.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Pumpkin War (due out on May 21, 2019) is a story of friendship and family, of getting back to the earth and enjoying the small things in life – and all this in a beautiful setting, with writing that seems just perfect for a middle grade audience! I was quite impressed. Usually books that try to take on this scope of feelings and events end up falling flat in one way or another, but this one is just right. I feel like Goldilocks, dancing around with glee after finding the three bears’ house and baby bear’s “just-right” porridge.

Billie is 12 years old, the oldest of three siblings. Their dad is Irish and their mom is Ojibwe, and they live on a Canadian island. Billie is fiercely competitive in all ways, and ESPECIALLY when it comes to growing monster pumpkins! She has been in an almost year-long standoff with the boy who used to be her best friend, since she is convinced he knocked her out of last year’s pumpkin race on purpose.

I loved the depiction of rural life in Canada. Billie not only takes care of her pumpkins, but also bees. Bees! Also there is more about fishing, and gardening, and the traditions of the Ojibwe. It was just so…homey. Down to earth. I loved it, and I think middle-school-me would have loved it as well. Also, adult-me loved her parents! Their differences in background were lightly touched on, and Billie obviously embraces both sides of her heritage. She even finds out about some “family secrets” part way through the book (nothing adult level), and has a part in reconciling her dad with his past. Also, Billlie’s youngest sibling is born near the beginning of the book and the struggles of adding a new baby to family life are also portrayed – Billie’s mom and dad aren’t perfect, and I totally sympathized with them.

Billie struggles all summer long to come to terms with what happened with Sam in the last race. Despite his efforts, she’s not quite willing to forgive him. Will she let a mistake ruin their friendship? Is being first more important? I thoroughly enjoyed the way this played out, and also the fact that the author didn’t make her competitive nature a bad thing (as happens so often when it is a girl character being competitive).

5/5 stars. This book will be going on my shelf!

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five-stars

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Nov 04

Review of How to Catch a Bear Who Loves to Read

Book Reviews 0 ★★★★★

Review of How to Catch a Bear Who Loves to ReadHow to Catch a Bear Who Loves to Read by Andrew Katz, Juliana Léveillé-Trudel, Joseph Sherman
Published by CrackBoom! Books on November 6, 2018
Genres: Children's Lit
Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World WideBuy on Amazon
Goodreads five-stars

A tale of two book lovers and one unlikely friendship

Julia has many friends in the forest by her house. She climbs trees with Scotty the squirrel, plays hide-and-seek with Abigail the groundhog, and has farting contests with Frieda the skunk. Julia dreams of meeting a bear, a bear she could play with and hug. But no bear has ever shown its snout.

One day, inspired by a book she’s reading, Julia brings honey (the perfect bear snack) into the woods. The next day, she tries bringing blueberries. But to her great surprise, it’s not just sweet smells that can attract a bear!

So begins a thrilling quest that will bring Julia to new corners of the forest—and of her heart. Introducing a spunky young heroine with a nose for books, How to Catch a Bear Who Loves to Read invites children to share their love of reading—and of bearnormous hugs—with Julia.

A little girl who loves the woods, books, and animals? Yes please!

How to Catch a Bear Who Loves to Read was a super cute story about a little girl who wants nothing so much as to give a bear a hug. She has woodland animals friends that she can play with, but she just REALLY wants to meet that bear! She decides to try to catch one using whatever means she can think of, with little success. Then one day, she leaves her precious book in the forest…

I loved the bright cheerfulness of the illustrations in this book. They really made the woods come alive in the best possible way, and will hopefully encourage more children to think of the woods as happy, welcoming places, not a place to be feared.

Best line: “But she couldn’t leave without her book…” And every booklover ever can relate.

Many thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a free ARC in exchange for an honest review!

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five-stars

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Sep 21

Review of The Cay by Theodore Taylor

Book Reviews 0 ★★★½

So, story behind this review. My dear husband is a wonderful man who is very supportive of my reading and book buying habits – but he doesn’t read himself, at least not for enjoyment. The other day we were in Books-a-million (the only town I’ve ever been in with one of those that was still open for business), and he randomly asked me if I’d ever heard of a book called “The Cay.” I hadn’t. He said it was one of the last books he remembered reading, because he had to read it in 6th or 7th grade for a class in school. I was a bit shocked that there was a book on a school reading program that I hadn’t read,  so naturally I had to go looking for it. Lo and behold, they had a little Yearling paperback copy and it came home with us.

Review of The Cay by Theodore TaylorThe Cay by Theodore Taylor
Published by Yearling on May 28th 2002
Genres: Children's Lit
Pages: 144
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Goodreads three-half-stars

Phillip is excited when the Germans invade the small island of Curaçao. War has always been a game to him, and he’s eager to glimpse it firsthand–until the freighter he and his mother are traveling to the United States on is torpedoed.   When Phillip comes to, he is on a small raft in the middle of the sea. Besides Stew Cat, his only companion is an old West Indian, Timothy. Phillip remembers his mother’s warning about black people: “They are different, and they live differently.”    But by the time the castaways arrive on a small island, Phillip’s head injury has made him blind and dependent on Timothy.

I wasn’t at all sure what to expect going into this. I’d never heard of the book or the author despite it apparently being a “children’s classic” (??), but Gary Paulsen (didn’t we all read Hatchet?) wrote the introduction so I thought it surely couldn’t be too bad. I was super skeptical though, on reading the blurb…I mean, it’s clearly meant to be a demonstration of how we are all PEOPLE above whatever color our skin is, but I was concerned that a book written in 1969 might not be as socially aware as it was thought at the time of publication.

It was an entertaining enough  little story, if a little slow at times. The style is a little dated, and I think modern kids might get bored (my husband said it was a slog for him), but an avid reader would breeze through it. I’m still a little on the fence as far as the representation. Timothy, the black man who saves Phillip from the sinking ship, is West Indian and repeatedly described as ugly – it does seem that most of his ugliness in Phillip’s eyes is due to his age, though whenever Philip has a disagreement with Timothy he blames it on Timothy’s race. At first he agrees with his mother’s statement on black people, “They are different and they live differently. That’s the way it must be.” Gradually however, he changes his mind as he actually gets to know Timothy and Timothy cares for him week after week. It was definitely predictable, but the addition of Stew Cat was sweet and I loved how he and Philip were such good buddies.

Timothy’s dialogue is ALL written in dialect, something that is not only (in my opinion) annoying to read but also tends to belittle the character speaking the lines. I understand it can and is sometimes only used as a device to help the reader imagine the way a character sounds – after all, there are a lot of different accents in the world – but it’s an older device and has fallen out of favor due to the frequent implication that the person is inferior in some way. Also, its use makes it more difficult for some of the intended audience to comprehend the dialogue.

The dialect issue was probably my biggest one with the book, since by the time the resolution comes Philip has entirely revamped his view of black people (and we hope, of anyone else different from him). I was also bothered by another aspect of Timothy’s story, but can’t really discuss it without spoilers, so….I’ll just leave it at that.

Overall, it was an okay book. I think there are much BETTER books on the market now, that would suit the purpose of helping privileged kids see outside of their world, but in 1969 this was probably pretty revolutionary.

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