Tag Archives: Justine Laismith

5 Books for Anti-Bullying Week

For Anti-Bullying Week 16-20 Nov 2020, here are five middle-grade books with cases of bullying. Listed in alphabetical order.

1. All The Things That Could Go Wrong by Stewart Foster

All The Things That Could Go WrongDan is angry. Nothing has been the same since his big brother left, and he’s taking it out on the nearest and weakest target: Alex.

Alex is struggling. His severe OCD makes it hard for him to leave the house, especially when Dan and his gang are waiting for him at school…

When the two boys’ mums arrange for them to meet out of school and finish building the raft that Dan started with his brother, it seems like the end of the world. But could it be the start of an unlikely friendship? My review

2. Bronze and Sunflower by Cao Wenxuan

Bronze and SunflowerWhen Sunflower, a young city girl, moves to the countryside, she grows to love the reed marsh lands – the endlessly flowing river, the friendly buffalo with their strong backs and shiny, round heads, the sky that stretches on and on in its vastness. However, the days are long, and the little girl is lonely. Then she meets Bronze, who, unable to speak, is ostracized by the other village boys. Soon the pair are inseparable, and when Bronze’s family agree to take Sunflower in, it seems that fate has brought him the sister he has always longed for. But life in Damaidi is hard, and Bronze’s family can barely afford to feed themselves. Can the little city girl stay here, in this place where she has finally found happiness?
A classic, heartwarming tale set to the backdrop of the Chinese cultural revolution.
My review

3. The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle by Victoria Williamson

The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle

Reema runs to remember the life she left behind in Syria. Caylin runs to find what she’s lost. Under the grey Glasgow skies, twelve-year-old refugee Reema is struggling to find her place in a new country, with a new language and without her brother. But she isn’t the only one feeling lost. Her Glasgwegian neighbour Caylin is lonely and lashing out. When they discover an injured fox and her cubs hiding on their estate, the girls form a wary friendship. And they are more alike than they could have imagined: they both love to run. As Reema and Caylin learn to believe again, in themselves and in others, they find friendship, freedom and the discovery that home isn’t a place, it’s the people you love. Heartfelt and full of hope, The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle is an uplifting story about the power of friendship and belonging. Inspired by her work with young asylum seekers, debut novelist Victoria Williamson’s stunning story of displacement and discovery will speak to anyone who has ever asked ‘where do I belong?’ My review

4. Restart by Gordon Korman

RestartChase’s memory just went out the window.

Chase doesn’t remember falling off the roof. He doesn’t remember hitting his head. He doesn’t, in fact, remember anything. He wakes up in a hospital room and suddenly has to learn his whole life all over again . . . starting with his own name.

He knows he’s Chase. But who is Chase? When he gets back to school, he sees that different kids have very different reactions to his return.

Some kids treat him like a hero. Some kids are clearly afraid of him.

One girl in particular is so angry with him that she pours her frozen yogurt on his head the first chance she gets.

Pretty soon, it’s not only a question of who Chase is–it’s a question of who he was . . . and who he’s going to be. My review

5. Secrets of the Great Fire Tree by Justine Laismith

Secrets of the Great Fire TreeA Boy.
His Pendant.
A Magical Tree.

In rural China during the New Year celebrations, Kai receives devastating news. A poor harvest spells disaster unless his mother accepts a job in the city caring for a wealthy family.

Abandoned in his mountainous village, Kai is desperate to bring his mother home. He gives in to superstition and unlocks the secrets of the Great Fire Tree. The Great Fire Tree will grant Kai’s wish—for a terrible price. With the help of his new friend Xinying and his trusted piglet, Kai will make a sacrifice to make his family whole.

Justine Laismith weaves together Chinese mystique and rural charm in an enchanting tale of an antidote that kills and an amulet that curses. Reviews on Goodreads


Can you think of other books? Drop it in the comments below!

Middle-grade Books on Global Citizenship

Our global leaders came together in 2015 and agreed on 17 global goals to create a better world. It’s Global Citizenship on 14-18 Nov. Here are some books tackling the sustainable development goals

1. No Poverty – Spilled Water by Sally Grindley

Spilled WaterOn the day that her uncle takes her to be sold to the highest bidder, eleven-year-old Lu Si-Yan learns what it really means to be born a girl in her culture: to be worth nothing more than a little spilled water. Torn from her family, she is taken to the smog-wrapped tower blocks and factories of the big city. There she is destined to become a servant to a wealthy family, and someday to marry their son. But Lu Si-Yan is not going to spend her life in servitude. Determined to return to her beloved mother and brother, she embarks on an epic journey to escape and find her way home. My review

2. Zero Hunger – Boys Without Names by Kashmira Sheth

Boys Without NamesFor eleven-year-old Gopal and his family, life in their rural Indian village is over: We stay, we starve, his baba has warned. So they must flee to the big city of Mumbai in hopes of finding work and a brighter future. Gopal is eager to help support his struggling family until school starts, so when a stranger approaches him with the promise of a factory job, he jumps at the offer.

But Gopal has been deceived. There is no factory but, instead, a small, stuffy sweatshop, where he and five other boys are forced to make beaded frames for no money and little food. The boys are forbidden to talk or even to call one another by their real names. In this atmosphere of distrust and isolation, locked in a rundown building in an unknown part of the city, Gopal despairs of ever seeing his family again.

Then, late one night when Gopal decides to share kahanis, or stories, he realizes that storytelling might be the boys’ key to holding on to their sense of self and their hope for any kind of future. If he can make them feel more like brothers than enemies, their lives will be more bearable in the shop—and they might even find a way to escape. My review

3. Health and Wellbeing – All The Things That Could Go Wrong by Stewart Foster

All The Things That Could Go WrongThere are two sides to every story.

Alex’s OCD is so severe that it’s difficult for him to even leave his house some days. His classmate Dan is so angry that he lashes out at the easiest target he can find at school: Alex. When their moms arrange for Alex and Dan to spend time together over winter break, it seems like a recipe for certain disaster…until it isn’t. Once forced together, these two sworn enemies discover that there is much more to each other than they ever knew. My review

4. Quality Education – Kick by Mitch Johnson

KickBudi’s plan is simple…

He’s going to be a star, instead of sweating over each football boot he makes, each stitch he sews, each box he packages. He’s going to play for the greatest team on earth, rather than in the square behind the factory where he works.

But one unlucky kick brings Budi’s world crashing down, because now he owes the Dragon, the most dangerous man in all Jakarta. Soon it isn’t only Budi’s dreams at stake, but his life.

A story about dreaming big, about hope and heroes, and never letting anything stand in your way… My review

5. Gender Equality Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

MoxieVivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with her high school teachers who think the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes, hallway harassment and gross comments from guys during class. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mum was a tough-as-nails, punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, and now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates Moxie, a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond and spread the Moxie message. As Viv forges friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, she realises that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution. My review

6. Clean water and Sanitation – A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story by Linda Sue Park

A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True StoryA Long Walk to Water begins as two stories, told in alternating sections, about a girl in Sudan in 2008 and a boy in Sudan in 1985. The girl, Nya, is fetching water from a pond that is two hours’ walk from her home: she makes two trips to the pond every day. The boy, Salva, becomes one of the “lost boys” of Sudan, refugees who cover the African continent on foot as they search for their families and for a safe place to stay. Enduring every hardship from loneliness to attack by armed rebels to contact with killer lions and crocodiles, Salva is a survivor, and his story goes on to intersect with Nya’s in an astonishing and moving way.

7. Affordable and Clean Energy – The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and HopeWilliam Kamkwamba was born in Malawi, a country where magic ruled and modern science was mystery. It was also a land withered by drought and hunger, and a place where hope and opportunity were hard to find. But William had read about windmills in a book called Using Energy, and he dreamed of building one that would bring electricity and water to his village and change his life and the lives of those around him. His neighbors may have mocked him and called him misala—crazy—but William was determined to show them what a little grit and ingenuity could do.

Enchanted by the workings of electricity as a boy, William had a goal to study science in Malawi’s top boarding schools. But in 2002, his country was stricken with a famine that left his family’s farm devastated and his parents destitute. Unable to pay the eighty-dollar-a-year tuition for his education, William was forced to drop out and help his family forage for food as thousands across the country starved and died.

Yet William refused to let go of his dreams. With nothing more than a fistful of cornmeal in his stomach, a small pile of once-forgotten science textbooks, and an armory of curiosity and determination, he embarked on a daring plan to bring his family a set of luxuries that only two percent of Malawians could afford and what the West considers a necessity—electricity and running water. Using scrap metal, tractor parts, and bicycle halves, William forged a crude yet operable windmill, an unlikely contraption and small miracle that eventually powered four lights, complete with homemade switches and a circuit breaker made from nails and wire. A second machine turned a water pump that could battle the drought and famine that loomed with every season.

Soon, news of William’s magetsi a mphepo—his “electric wind”—spread beyond the borders of his home, and the boy who was once called crazy became an inspiration to those around the world.

Here is the remarkable story about human inventiveness and its power to overcome crippling adversity. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind will inspire anyone who doubts the power of one individual’s ability to change his community and better the lives of those around him.

8. Decent Work and Economic Growth – Secrets of the Great Fire Tree by Justine Laismith

secretsofthegreatfiretree A Boy.
His Pendant.
A Magical Tree.

In rural China during the New Year celebrations, Kai receives devastating news. A poor harvest spells disaster unless his mother accepts a job in the city caring for a wealthy family.

Abandoned in his mountainous village, Kai is desperate to bring his mother home. He gives in to superstition and unlocks the secrets of the Great Fire Tree. The Great Fire Tree will grant Kai’s wish—for a terrible price. With the help of his new friend Xinying and his trusted piglet, Kai will make a sacrifice to make his family whole.

Justine Laismith weaves together Chinese mystique and rural charm in an enchanting tale of an antidote that kills and an amulet that curses. Reviews

9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure – Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the WorldA charmingly illustrated and educational book, Women in Science highlights the contributions of fifty notable women to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from the ancient to the modern world. Full of striking, singular art, this fascinating collection also contains infographics about relevant topics such as lab equipment, rates of women currently working in STEM fields, and an illustrated scientific glossary. The trailblazing women profiled include well-known figures like primatologist Jane Goodall, as well as lesser-known pioneers such as Katherine Johnson, the African-American physicist and mathematician who calculated the trajectory of the 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the moon.

Women in Science celebrates the achievements of the intrepid women who have paved the way for the next generation of female engineers, biologists, mathematicians, doctors, astronauts, physicists, and more! My review

10. Inequalities – A Picture of Freedom: The Diary of Clotee, a Slave Girl, Belmont Plantation, Virginia 1859 by Patricia C. McKissack

A Picture of Freedom: The Diary of Clotee, a Slave Girl, Belmont Plantation, Virginia 1859 (Dear America)Day or two later

Freedom is one of the first words I teached myself to write. Down in the Quarters people pray for freedom – they sing ’bout freedom, but to keep Mas’ Henley from knowin’ their true feelings, they call freedom “heaven.” Everybody’s mind is on freedom.

But it is a word that aine never showed me no picture. While fannin’ this afternoon, my eyes fell on “freedom” in a book William was readin’. No wonder I don’t see nothin’. I been spellin’ it F-R-E-D-U-M.

I put the right letters in my head to make sure I remembered their place. F-R-E-E-D-O-M. I just now wrote it. Still no picture.. My review

11. Sustainable Cities and Communities – Cowgirl by G.R. Gemin

Cowgirl

Growing up on the embattled Mawr Estate in South Wales, all Gemma sees are burglaries, muggings, sadness and boredom. With a dad in prison and a mum who has given up hope, she, like everyone around her, is holding on to memories of the times when happiness wasn’t so hard to find.

When her search for the scene of a perfect childhood day takes her up into the surrounding hills, Gemma is forced into a meeting with the legendary Cowgirl. Everyone at school knows she’s a weirdo: six foot tall and angry, the only conversations she has are with the twelve cows on her dad’s farm. But with her abrupt arrival in Gemma’s life, everything starts to look different. And with her only friends in mortal danger of the abbatoir, it turns out she and Gemma have a mission on their hands. A gently funny story of a community coming together, this is a tale of happy endings in unexpected places.

13. Protect the Planet – Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar

Fuzzy MudFrom the author of the acclaimed bestseller “Holes, ” winner of the Newbery Award and the National Book Award, comes a new middle-grade novel with universal appeal. Combining horror-movie suspense with the issues of friendship, bullying, and the possibility of ecological disaster, this novel will intrigue, surprise, and inspire readers and compel them to think twice about how they treat others as well as their environment.
“Be careful. Your next step may be your last.”
Fifth grader Tamaya Dhilwaddi and seventh grader Marshall Walsh have been walking to and from Woodbridge Academy together since elementary school. But their routine is disrupted when bully Chad Wilson challenges Marshall to a fight. To avoid the conflict, Marshall takes a shortcut home through the off-limits woods. Tamaya reluctantly follows. They soon get lost, and they find trouble. Bigger trouble than anyone could ever have imagined.
In the days and weeks that follow, the authorities and the U.S. Senate become involved, and what they uncover might affect the future of the world.
My review

14. Life below water – Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly

Song for a WhaleThe story of a deaf girl’s connection to a whale whose song can’t be heard by his species, and the journey she takes to help him.

From fixing the class computer to repairing old radios, twelve-year-old Iris is a tech genius. But she’s the only deaf person in her school, so people often treat her like she’s not very smart. If you’ve ever felt like no one was listening to you, then you know how hard that can be.

When she learns about Blue 55, a real whale who is unable to speak to other whales, Iris understands how he must feel. Then she has an idea: she should invent a way to “sing” to him! But he’s three thousand miles away. How will she play her song for him? My review

15. Life on Land – Hoot by Carl Hiaasen

HootHilarious, touching and thought-provoking, Hoot is a modern classic, now celebrating its fifteenth anniversary. Winner of the Newbery Honor award and a New York Times bestseller, Carl Hiaasen’s first novel celebrates the natural world with his trademark wit and warmth.

Roy Eberhardt never wanted to move to Florida. In his opinion, Disney World is an armpit.

Roy’s family moves around a lot so he’s used to the new-kid drill – he’s also used to bullies like Dana Matherson. And anyway, it’s because of Dana that Roy gets to see the mysterious running boy who runs away from the school bus and who has no books, no backpack and, most bizarrely, no shoes.

Sensing a mystery, Roy starts to trail the mystery runner – a chase that will introduce him to many weird Floridian creatures: potty-trained alligators, cute burrowing owls, a fake-fart champion, a shoeless eco-warrior, a sinister pancake PR man, new friends and some snakes with sparkly tails. As the plot thickens, Roy and his friends realise it’s up to them to save the endangered owls from the evil Mother Paula’s pancake company who are planning to build a new restaurant on their home . . . My review

16. Peace and Justice – The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

The Night DiaryIt’s 1947, and India, newly independent of British rule, has been separated into two countries: Pakistan and India. The divide has created much tension between Hindus and Muslims, and hundreds of thousands are killed crossing borders.

Half-Muslim, half-Hindu twelve-year-old Nisha doesn’t know where she belongs, or what her country is anymore. When Papa decides it’s too dangerous to stay in what is now Pakistan, Nisha and her family become refugees and embark first by train but later on foot to reach her new home. The journey is long, difficult, and dangerous, and after losing her mother as a baby, Nisha can’t imagine losing her homeland, too. But even if her country has been ripped apart, Nisha still believes in the possibility of putting herself back together. My review

17 Partnerships for the Goals – Love from Lexie by Cathy Cassidy

Love from Lexie (The Lost and Found, #1)Ever since Lexie’s mum vanished, her world hasn’t stopped spinning. A new home, a new school – even a new family but Lexie never gives up hope that her mum will come back and writes her letters every day to tell her all about her new life.

There’s plenty to tell – the new group of misfits she calls friends, the talent for music she never knew she had and the gorgeous boy with blue eyes and secrets to hide. But her letters remain unanswered and she’s starting to feel more alone than ever.

Lexie’s about to learn that sometimes you need to get lost in order to be found. My review

You will find that some books can easily fit into other categories as well. After all, several of these issues are interlinked. You might have noticed I skipped Goal #12. I could not come up with a book that dealt with Responsible Consumption. Can you suggest any? Leave it in the comments below!

6 Books to Mark World Poverty Day

World Poverty Day is on 17 October. Here are some middle-grade books about children dealing with this issue for your classroom discussions.

1. Kick by Mitch Johnson

KickBudi’s plan is simple…

He’s going to be a star, instead of sweating over each football boot he makes, each stitch he sews, each box he packages. He’s going to play for the greatest team on earth, rather than in the square behind the factory where he works.

But one unlucky kick brings Budi’s world crashing down, because now he owes the Dragon, the most dangerous man in all Jakarta. Soon it isn’t only Budi’s dreams at stake, but his life. My review

A story about dreaming big, about hope and heroes, and never letting anything stand in your way…

2. Tin Boy by Steve Cole

Tin BoyMining for tin in deep, dangerous trenches is the only life that Tono has ever known.

Worked to the brink of exhaustion each day, his only escape is in the precious moments when he reads his dad’s old comics. In a world of heroes and superpowers, he can forget the terrifying mining pits.

But an underwater avalanche, a glimpse of something bright red in the sandy seabed, and a canny sidekick are about to transform Tono’s life forever…

Fate collides with a stark reality in this truly unique and unforgettable story.

Particularly suitable for struggling, reluctant or dyslexic readers aged 8+. My review

3. Trash by Andy Mulligan

TrashIn an unnamed Third World country, in the not-so-distant future, three “dumpsite boys” make a living picking through the mountains of garbage on the outskirts of a large city.

One unlucky-lucky day, Raphael finds something very special and very mysterious. So mysterious that he decides to keep it, even when the city police offer a handsome reward for its return. That decision brings with it terrifying consequences, and soon the dumpsite boys must use all of their cunning and courage to stay ahead of their pursuers. It’s up to Raphael, Gardo, and Rat—boys who have no education, no parents, no homes, and no money—to solve the mystery and right a terrible wrong.

Andy Mulligan has written a powerful story about unthinkable poverty—and the kind of hope and determination that can transcend it. With twists and turns, unrelenting action, and deep, raw emotion, Trash is a heart-pounding, breath-holding novel.

4. Secrets of the Great Fire Tree by Justine Laismith

secretsofthegreatfiretree

A Boy.
His Pendant.
A Magical Tree.

In rural China during the New Year celebrations, Kai receives devastating news. A poor harvest spells disaster unless his mother accepts a job in the city caring for a wealthy family.

Abandoned in his mountainous village, Kai is desperate to bring his mother home. He gives in to superstition and unlocks the secrets of the Great Fire Tree. The Great Fire Tree will grant Kai’s wish—for a terrible price. With the help of his new friend Xinying and his trusted piglet, Kai will make a sacrifice to make his family whole.

Justine Laismith weaves together Chinese mystique and rural charm in an enchanting tale of an antidote that kills and an amulet that curses.

5. Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins

Bamboo PeopleBamboo People by Mitali Perkins

Bang! A side door bursts open. Soldiers pour into the room. They’re shouting and waving rifles. I shield my head with my arms. It was a lie! I think, my mind racing.

Girls and boys alike are screaming. The soldiers prod and herd some of us together and push the rest apart as if we’re cows or goats. Their leader is a middle—aged man. He’s moving slowly, intently, not dashing around like the others.

” Take the boys only, Win Min,” I overhear him telling a tall, gangly soldier. “Make them obey.

 

6. Boys Without Names by Kashmira Sheth

Boys Without NamesFor eleven-year-old Gopal and his family, life in their rural Indian village is over: We stay, we starve, his baba has warned. So they must flee to the big city of Mumbai in hopes of finding work and a brighter future. Gopal is eager to help support his struggling family until school starts, so when a stranger approaches him with the promise of a factory job, he jumps at the offer.

But Gopal has been deceived. There is no factory but, instead, a small, stuffy sweatshop, where he and five other boys are forced to make beaded frames for no money and little food. The boys are forbidden to talk or even to call one another by their real names. In this atmosphere of distrust and isolation, locked in a rundown building in an unknown part of the city, Gopal despairs of ever seeing his family again.

Then, late one night when Gopal decides to share kahanis, or stories, he realizes that storytelling might be the boys’ key to holding on to their sense of self and their hope for any kind of future. If he can make them feel more like brothers than enemies, their lives will be more bearable in the shop—and they might even find a way to escape.

 

Are there any other books you know that deals with this topic? Drop it in the comments below.

5 Middle-grade Books about Magical Trees

National Tree Day is coming up at the end of the month. Here are some dates for your diary: School Tree Day is on 31 July and National Tree Day is 2 Aug 2020.

For the occasion, I have come up with a list of fiction books about trees, where they are not just the carbon-dioxide absorbing beings we know. They are much more than that.

1. The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

The Lie TreeGoodreads Blurb

The leaves were cold and slightly clammy. There was no mistaking them. She had seen their likeness painstakingly sketched in her father’s journal. This was his greatest secret, his treasure and his undoing. The Tree of Lies. Now it was hers, and the journey he had never finished stretched out before her.

When Faith’s father is found dead under mysterious circumstances, she is determined to untangle the truth from the lies. Searching through his belongings for clues, she discovers a strange tree. A tree that feeds off whispered lies and bears fruit that reveals hidden secrets.

But as Faith’s untruths spiral out of control, she discovers that where lies seduce, truths shatter…

2. The Magic Faraway Tree Series

The Enchanted Wood (The Faraway Tree, #1)The Enchanted Wood by Enid Blyton

Goodreads Blurb
Jo, Bessie and Fanny move to the country and find an Enchanted Wood right on their doorstep. In the magic Faraway Tree live the magical characters that soon become their new friends – Moon-Face, Silky the fairy, and Saucepan Man. Together they visit the strange lands (the Roundabout Land, the Land of Ice and Snow, Toyland and the Land of Take What You Want) atop the tree and have the most exciting adventures – and narrow escapes.

3. Secrets of the Great Fire Tree by Justine Laismith

secretsofthegreatfiretree

Goodreads Blurb

A Boy.
His Pendant.
A Magical Tree.

In rural China during the New Year celebrations, Kai receives devastating news. A poor harvest spells disaster unless his mother accepts a job in the city caring for a wealthy family.

Abandoned in his mountainous village, Kai is desperate to bring his mother home. He gives in to superstition and unlocks the secrets of the Great Fire Tree. The Great Fire Tree will grant Kai’s wish—for a terrible price. With the help of his new friend Xinying and his trusted piglet, Kai will make a sacrifice to make his family whole.

Justine Laismith weaves together Chinese mystique and rural charm in an enchanting tale of an antidote that kills and an amulet that curses.

4. Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly

Lalani of the Distant SeaGoodreads Blurb

There are stories of extraordinary children who are chosen from birth to complete great quests and conquer evil villains.

This is no such story.

Sometimes, you are an ordinary child.

Sometimes, you have to choose yourself.

This is the story of Lalani Sarita, a twelve-year-old girl who lives on the island of Sanlagita in the shadow of a vengeful mountain. When she makes a fateful wish that endangers her already-vulnerable village, she sets out across the distant sea in search of life’s good fortunes. Grown men have died making the same journey. What hope does an ordinary girl have?

Inspired by Filipino folklore, Lalani of the Distant Sea introduces readers to a landscape of magical creatures, such as Bai-Vinca, the enormous birdwoman; Ditasa Ulod, part woman, part eel; the mindoren, a race of creatures modeled after the water buffalo; and the whenbo — trees that eat the souls of the dead.

My review

5. The Storm Keeper’s Island by Catherine Doyle

The Storm Keeper's Island (Storm Keeper, #1)Goodreads Blurb

When Fionn Boyle sets foot on Arranmore Island, it begins to stir beneath his feet …

Once in a generation, Arranmore Island chooses a new Storm Keeper to wield its power and keep its magic safe from enemies. The time has come for Fionn’s grandfather, a secretive and eccentric old man, to step down. Soon, a new Keeper will rise.

But, deep underground, someone has been waiting for Fionn. As the battle to become the island’s next champion rages, a more sinister magic is waking up, intent on rekindling an ancient war.

My review

 

Have you read any of these books? If you can think of other books, drop it in the comments below.

Ten Books with House Covers

We are staying at home, staying safe. The expression safe as houses comes to mind so here are some books with places of abode on its cover. On this day of publication, we are also right in the middle of the #stayhomereadingrush. One of the suggestions on the poster was to read books with houses on the cover.

Here are my middle-grade and YA suggestions, listed in alphabetical order.

The Boy, The Bird and The Coffin MakerThe Boy, The Bird and The Coffin Maker by Matilda Woods

Goodreads Blurb

Alberto lives alone in the town of Allora where fish fly out of the sea and everyone knows everybody’s business. There he makes coffins for the great and small, but being the only coffin maker in town can be lonely. That is until a little boy and a magical bird enter his life and change it forever. My review

Greenglass House (Greenglass House #1)Greenglass House by Kate Milford

Goodreads Blurb

It’s wintertime at Greenglass House. The creaky smuggler’s inn is always quiet during this season, and twelve-year-old Milo, the innkeepers’ adopted son, plans to spend his holidays relaxing. But on the first icy night of vacation, out of nowhere, the guest bell rings. Then rings again. And again. Soon Milo’s home is bursting with odd, secretive guests, each one bearing a strange story that is somehow connected to the rambling old house. As objects go missing and tempers flare, Milo and Meddy, the cook’s daughter, must decipher clues and untangle the web of deepening mysteries to discover the truth about Greenglass House—and themselves.

The House with Chicken LegsThe House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson

Goodreads Blurb

All 12-year-old Marinka wants is a friend. A real friend. Not like her house with chicken legs. Sure, the house can play games like tag and hide-and-seek, but Marinka longs for a human companion. Someone she can talk to and share secrets with.
But that’s tough when your grandmother is a Yaga, a guardian who guides the dead into the afterlife. It’s even harder when you live in a house that wanders all over the world . . . carrying you with it. Even worse, Marinka is being trained to be a Yaga. That means no school, no parties–and no playmates that stick around for more than a day.
So when Marinka stumbles across the chance to make a real friend, she breaks all the rules . . . with devastating consequences. Her beloved grandmother mysteriously disappears, and it’s up to Marinka to find her–even if it means making a dangerous journey to the afterlife.
With a mix of whimsy, humor, and adventure, this debut novel will wrap itself around your heart and never let go. My review

I, CorianderI, Coriander by Sally Gardner

Goodreads Blurb

In this exceptionally well-crafted tale, Coriander tells the story of her childhood in seventeenth-century London—and of her discovery that she has inherited magical powers from her mother, who was a fairy princess. But her mother’s sudden death brings on a dark time for Coriander. And after mourning her beloved mother and dealing with the disappearance of her father and the wrath of her evil stepmother, Coriander finds herself locked in a chest with no hope of escape and no will to survive. But when a bright light beckons to her, it is then that Coriander’s journey truly begins.

The Last Chance Hotel (Seth Seppi Mystery, #1)The Last Chance Hotel by Nicki Thornton

Goodreads Blurb

Seth is a kitchen boy at the remote Last Chance Hotel. His father has long ago left, leaving him imprisoned until he is old enough to set out on his own. If there’s any hope he has, it’s to be the greatest chef that ever lived… just like his father.

One night, a band of magicians begin to arrive to participate in a secret meeting — a Prospect Selection Procedure to determine the most talented magicians in the world, judged by their leader Dr. Thallonius. Seth has one task: to make Dr. Thallonius the greatest dessert he’s ever tasted. Then, maybe he will help Seth find a way to freedom.

But when the doors to the private meeting open, and Dr. Thallonius lay dead on the floor, the group blames the dessert, which means that it’s Seth who will pay the price. But Seth knows he’s innocent, and only has so much time to eliminate each suspect and prove his innocence. My review

Mold and the Poison PlotMold and the Poison Plot by Lorraine Gregory

Goodreads Blurb

He’s got a big heart . . . and a nose to match!
Mold’s a bit of a freak. His nose is as big as his body is puny and his mother abandoned him in a bin when he was a mere baby. Who else but the old healer, Aggy, would have taken him in and raised him as her own? But when Aggy is accused of poisoning the King, Mold sets out to clear her name.
In a thrilling race against time to save Aggy from the hangman’s noose, Mold faces hideous, deadly monsters like the Yurg and the Purple Narlo Frog. He finds true friendship in the most unusual – and smelly – of places and must pit his wits and his clever nose against the evil witch Hexaba.
This is an exciting fantasy story with an array of wonderful characters, including the inimitable Mold, told in a fresh and distinctive voice by a promising new writer. My review

Secrets of the Great Fire TreeSecrets of the Great Fire Tree by Justine Laismith

Goodreads Blurb

A Boy.
His Pendant.
A Magical Tree.

In rural China during the New Year celebrations, Kai receives devastating news. A poor harvest spells disaster unless his mother accepts a job in the city caring for a wealthy family.

Abandoned in his mountainous village, Kai is desperate to bring his mother home. He gives in to superstition and unlocks the secrets of the Great Fire Tree. The Great Fire Tree will grant Kai’s wish—for a terrible price. With the help of his new friend Xinying and his trusted piglet, Kai will make a sacrifice to make his family whole.

Justine Laismith weaves together Chinese mystique and rural charm in an enchanting tale of an antidote that kills and an amulet that curses.

Serafina and the Black Cloak (Serafina, #1)Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

Goodreads Blurb

“Never go into the deep parts of the forest, for there are many dangers there, and they will ensnare your soul.”

Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of the Biltmore estate. There’s plenty to explore in her grand home, although she must take care to never be seen. None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists; she and her pa, the estate’s maintenance man, have secretly lived in the basement for as long as Serafina can remember.

But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit is: a terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks Biltmore’s corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of the Biltmore’s owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the Man in the Black Cloak’s true identity… before all of the children vanish one by one.

Serafina’s hunt leads her into the very forest that she has been taught to fear. There she discovers a forgotten legacy of magic, one that is bound to her own identity. In order to save the children of Biltmore, Serafina must seek the answers that will unlock the puzzle of her past. My review

The Smell of Other People's HousesThe Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

Goodreads Blurb

In Alaska, 1970, being a teenager here isn’t like being a teenager anywhere else. Ruth has a secret that she can’t hide forever. Dora wonders if she can ever truly escape where she comes from, even when good luck strikes. Alyce is trying to reconcile her desire to dance, with the life she’s always known on her family’s fishing boat. Hank and his brothers decide it’s safer to run away than to stay home—until one of them ends up in terrible danger.

Four very different lives are about to become entangled.

WildSparkWildSpark by Vashti Hardy

Goodreads Blurb

A year after the death of her older brother, Prue Haywood’s family is still shattered by grief. But everything changes when a stranger arrives at the farm. A new, incredible technology has been discovered in the city of Medlock, where a secretive guild of inventors have developed a way to capture spirits of the dead in animal-like machines, bringing them back to life. Prue knows that the “Ghost Guild” might hold the key to bringing her brother back, so she seizes the stranger’s offer to join as an apprentice. But to find her brother, she needs to find a way to get the ghost machines to remember the people they used to be. Yet if Prue succeeds, all of society could come apart… My review

 

Hope you find something you want to read in this list. Stay at home, folks, stay safe.

Why are Salamanders like Birds (and other creatures) ?

In my chapter book, The Magic Mixer, Mrs Dabble uses the salamander to help her gets some extra hands when she needs them. If you’ve been following my previous articles about Mrs Dabble, you’ll see that she’s trying to be like other animals. She’s wanted to be like an owl and an octopus and in this article, a salamander. Salamanders, like Mrs Dabble, have something like other animals. Here are some fun facts about who they are like.

Why are salamanders like birds C

Image by Vicki Lynn from Pixabay 

1. Frogs

Like frogs, salamanders are amphibians. This means they can breathe on land or in water. Salamanders look like tadpoles when they are young. Like tadpoles, they started with gills and later develop lungs. There are some that don’t have gills or lungs. These salamanders breathe through their skin. There are also some keep their gills and never ventured out of water. Like frogs, their front and back legs develop with time.

Why are salamanders like birds Frog

Image by Couleur from Pixabay

2. Lizards

With their long and slim bodies, salamanders look like lizards. When they encounter danger, lizards drop a limb or tail to distract a predator. The missing limb grows back within a couple of weeks. Salamanders can do the same, as we have learnt in The Magic Mixer. Scientists hope one day we can be like salamanders; to regenerate limbs on injured humans. Researchers have recently identified the salamander’s biological pathway responsible for this and they have also found the genes that provide the clue to how they do this.

Why are Salamanders like birds Lizard

Image by Jinali Parikh from Pixabay

3. Birds

Specifically, a canary. Canaries are traditionally taken into coal mines as they are more sensitive to toxic gases underground. If the canary dies, it was a sign that there something toxic is in the air. Salamanders in the wild are like canaries in the mines. This is because their smooth, glossy skins are poor barriers. They let environmental toxins through easily, which poison them. Hence the more salamanders you can find in a place, the cleaner the environment.

Are there any quirky similarities you know of between totally different creatures? Drop it in the comments below. If you want to know more about Mrs Dabble and her adventures with the owl, octopus and salamander, you can check out The Magic Mixer here. It’s free on Amazon this weekend 14-15 Mar to mark the end of British Science Week.

The Magic Mixer ebook c

 

Eight Books with Strong Female Leads

International Women’s Day is on 8 March. To mark this day, here are some children’s books with strong female leads to inspire our female readers. These strong female characters show many traits.  They are creative, courageous and challenge their boundaries.

Middle Grade Books

Serafina and the Black Cloak (Serafina, #1)Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

My review

Blurb

“Never go into the deep parts of the forest, for there are many dangers there, and they will ensnare your soul.”

Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of the Biltmore estate. There’s plenty to explore in her grand home, although she must take care to never be seen. None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists; she and her pa, the estate’s maintenance man, have secretly lived in the basement for as long as Serafina can remember.

But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit is: a terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks Biltmore’s corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of the Biltmore’s owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the Man in the Black Cloak’s true identity… before all of the children vanish one by one.

Serafina’s hunt leads her into the very forest that she has been taught to fear. There she discovers a forgotten legacy of magic, one that is bound to her own identity. In order to save the children of Biltmore, Serafina must seek the answers that will unlock the puzzle of her past.

BrightstormBrightstorm by Vashti Hardy

My review

Blurb

Twins Arthur and Maudie receive word in Lontown that their famous explorer father died in a failed attempt to reach South Polaris. Not only that, but he has been accused of trying to steal fuel from his competitors before he died! The twins don’t believe the news, and they answer an ad to help crew a new exploration attempt in the hope of learning the truth and salvaging their family’s reputation. As the winged ship Aurora sets sail, the twins must keep their wits about them and prove themselves worthy of the rest of the crew. But will Arthur and Maudie find the answers they seek?

The Fox Girl and the White GazelleThe Fox Girl and the White Gazelle by Victoria Williamson

My review

Blurb

Reema runs to remember the life she left behind in Syria. Caylin runs to find what she’s lost. Under the grey Glasgow skies, twelve-year-old refugee Reema is struggling to find her place in a new country, with a new language and without her brother. But she isn’t the only one feeling lost. Her Glasgwegian neighbour Caylin is lonely and lashing out. When they discover an injured fox and her cubs hiding on their estate, the girls form a wary friendship. And they are more alike than they could have imagined: they both love to run. As Reema and Caylin learn to believe again, in themselves and in others, they find friendship, freedom and the discovery that home isn’t a place, it’s the people you love. Heartfelt and full of hope, The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle is an uplifting story about the power of friendship and belonging. Inspired by her work with young asylum seekers, debut novelist Victoria Williamson’s stunning story of displacement and discovery will speak to anyone who has ever asked ‘where do I belong?’

The Girl, the Cat and the NavigatorThe Girl, the Cat and the Navigator by Matilda Woods

My review

Blurb (There wasn’t one on Goodreads, so I’ve typed out what was on the book jacket)

Set sail aboard the Plucky Leopard for an adventure of myth and marvel among the ice-caps!

Curious, pin-bright Oona Britt dreams of a life of excitement on the wild waves. She has read stories of a mysterious, magical creature called the nardoo which swims through the starts at night, and decides to stow away on her father’s ship to track on down.

But her time on the storm-tossed sea is fraught with danger – there’s a mutinous crew, a sabotaging ship’s cat called Barnacles and a hungry creature of the deep awoken after a long sleep.

The House with Chicken LegsThe House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson

My review

Blurb

All 12-year-old Marinka wants is a friend. A real friend. Not like her house with chicken legs. Sure, the house can play games like tag and hide-and-seek, but Marinka longs for a human companion. Someone she can talk to and share secrets with.
But that’s tough when your grandmother is a Yaga, a guardian who guides the dead into the afterlife. It’s even harder when you live in a house that wanders all over the world . . . carrying you with it. Even worse, Marinka is being trained to be a Yaga. That means no school, no parties–and no playmates that stick around for more than a day.
So when Marinka stumbles across the chance to make a real friend, she breaks all the rules . . . with devastating consequences. Her beloved grandmother mysteriously disappears, and it’s up to Marinka to find her–even if it means making a dangerous journey to the afterlife.
With a mix of whimsy, humor, and adventure, this debut novel will wrap itself around your heart and never let go.

The Miscalculations of Lightning GirlThe Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

My review

Blurb

A lightning strike gave her a super power…but even a super genius can’t solve the problem of middle school. This smart and funny novel is perfect for fans of The Fourteenth GoldfishRain Reign, and Counting by Sevens.

Lucy Callahan was struck by lightning. She doesn’t remember it, but it changed her life forever. The zap gave her genius-level math skills, and ever since, Lucy has been homeschooled. Now, at 12 years old, she’s technically ready for college. She just has to pass 1 more test–middle school!

Lucy’s grandma insists: Go to middle school for 1 year. Make 1 friend. Join 1 activity. And read 1 book (that’s not a math textbook!). Lucy’s not sure what a girl who does calculus homework for fun can possibly learn in 7th grade. She has everything she needs at home, where nobody can make fun of her rigid routines or her superpowered brain. The equation of Lucy’s life has already been solved. Unless there’s been a miscalculation?

A celebration of friendship, Stacy McAnulty’s smart and thoughtful middle-grade debut reminds us all to get out of our comfort zones and embrace what makes us different.

Chapter Books

Spider Stampede (Switch, #1)Spider Stampede by Ali Sparkes

My Quick Thoughts:

Mrs Potts is obviously a very clever and inventive scientist. I wish there were more books like the Switch Series. Children, especially girls need to read about female leads and mentor in STEM roles.

Blurb

All Josh and Danny Phillips want to do is play in the yard with their dog, like regular eight-year-olds. Unfortunately, their crazy neighbor Miss Potts makes sure that they never have any fun. When the boys accidentally stumble on Miss Potts’s secret that she is working on experiments that change people into bugs they find themselves in a whole lot of trouble. (They also find themselves with six more legs than normal.) Can the boys survive in the world as spiders? And more important, will they figure out how to change back into humans in time for dinner?

The Magic Mixer ebook cThe Magic Mixer by Justine Laismith

Blurb

This is a story about Mrs Dabble, who is bringing up three children: Billy, who is a pleasant and polite; Melanie, a toddler who likes to do things for herself; and Ruby, a baby.

On a typical day, Mrs Dabble finds herself going from one crisis to another. She really needs some help, but where can she get it from?

Meet Dr Patsy Gerlaxi and her Magic Mixer. This machine takes unique and useful features from any animal and inserts them into humans!

So begins Mrs Dabble’s adventure to getting more help with the assistance of the Magic Mixer …

 

If you are looking for books to inspire the little girl in your life, I hope these eight books will give you a starting point. If you want more suggestions, drop me a note below and I will gladly recommend more. Or if you know of other books must-read strong female leads do drop your suggestions below.

First published 1 March 2019 for International Women’s Day. Updated on 1 March 2020.

Twelve Books about Women-in-STEM

UNESCO has designated 11 Feb to be the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Here are some fiction and non-fiction books about women and girls in STEM.

Chapter Books/Early Readers

Spider Stampede (Switch, #1)Spider Stampede

by Ali Sparkes

This is a first in the series. Mrs Potts is a very clever and inventive scientist.

My Explosive DiaryMy Explosive Diary

by Emily Gale

This is a book that showcases girls can do anything.

The Magic Mixer ebook cThe Magic Mixer

by Justine Laismith

Mrs Dabble tackles the arduous challenge of parenting with the help of an owl, octopus and a salamander. Invented by two women, a scientist and an engineer, it’s a machine that gives you the special feature of any animal.

Middle Grade Books

The Miscalculations of Lightning GirlThe Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A home-schooled math genius finds her way in middle school and uses her math skills to help an charity house find new homes for animals in their care.

BrightstormBrightstorm

by Vashti Hardy

Captain Scott-like antarctic adventure. Designed, built and led by Harriet, twins set out in her sky-ship to find their missing explorer father.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Calpurnia Tate, #1)The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A girl develops her interest as a naturalist in an era where STEM doors are closed to the females.

The Matilda EffectThe Matilda Effect

by Ellie Irving

A girl sets out to right the wrong done to her grandmother-in-STEM.

 

The Dog Who Saved the WorldThe Dog Who Saved the World

by Ross Welford

A canine-origin pandemic breaks out shortly after a talented programmer convinces Georgie to visit her house.

Beetle Boy (The Battle of the Beetles #1)Beetle Boy

by M.G. Leonard

Beetle version of 101 Dalmations. The woman-in-STEM in this story is the antagonist.

Non-fiction Books

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the WorldWomen in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am partial to this one because of its beautiful illustrations.

Brilliant Ideas From Wonderful WomenBrilliant Ideas From Wonderful Women by Aitziber Lopez

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Children’s book review about the everyday items and women who invented them

Hidden FiguresHidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Non-fiction book review on Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly. It follows the lives of black women

There are several non-fiction books highlighting women’s contributions to STEM. However fictions books with women in STEM, especially those as mentors, are few and far between. I want to make this a longer list. If you know of any more books, please leave the book title and if you know it, the author’s name in the comments below. Thank you!

First published 11 Feb 2019. Updated 1 Feb 2020.

Six Middle Grade Books to Take you to Exotic Places

Multicultural Children’s Book Day in on 31 Jan 2020. Here are six diverse books for you.

1. Taiwan

Dumpling DaysDumpling Days by Grace Lin

This book is about a Chinese-American girls who goes to Taiwan for the summer for a family celebration. It gives a very good insight into the local lives in Taiwan, and the experiences of a third-culture kid.

2. Myanmar (Burma)

Bamboo PeopleBamboo People by Mitali Perkins

This is about two boys growing up in the political and military backdrop of Burma-Thai border. It is a sobering story about how similar experiences evokes different responses depending on the individual. It won the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature for Children Honour in 2010 and has been nominated for several other awards.

3. Korea

A Single ShardA Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

Set in 12th Century Korea, this story centres on an orphan and his determination to become a craftsman in pottery. It has won several awards, including the Newbury Medal award in 2002.

 

4. India

Boys Without NamesBoys Without Names by Kashmira Sheth

It’s about a kidnapped boy forced into child labour.

Prior to reading this book, I naively thought that child labour happened because poverty had driven the children to work to contribute to the family’s income. This book opened my eyes. We see how farmers are under the mercy of weather and demand. Circumstances beyond their control led Gopal’s family to upsticks to Mumbai. He wanted to help his family financially and went looking for jobs. But he was tricked and then kidnapped. Locked away in an attic, he was forced to work alongside other kidnapped boys to make beaded frames. This book is age-appropriate for the subject.

The Night DiaryThe Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

Historical fiction set in 1947 when a border was put up, forming India and Pakistan. When India gained independence from the British, it separated into two countries, India and Pakistan. The Hindus had to move south to India and the Muslims north to Pakistan. Seen through the eyes of a girl, Nisha, this was not a peaceful transition. Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs who used to live peacefully now fought and killed one other.  This book was an Honour Book in the 2019 Newbury Medal award. My review

5. China

Spilled WaterSpilled Water by Sally Grindley
It’s about a poor girl being sold at market as a child labourer.

Do not be fooled by this book. The blurb isn’t enticing, and the cover could be more attractive, but the story is eye-opening. Not only does it give a realistic feel to being China, but it highlights a social issue there. Girls in China were sold at market and became the property of these employers, who put them to labour in poor working conditions. Sally Grindley had done a lot of research and even travelled to China. It’s a great book for Middle Graders.This book won the 2004 Smarties Award for fiction 9 – 11.

secretsofthegreatfiretree

Secrets of the Great Fire Tree by Justine Laismith

Also set in China, this is a tale of an antidote that kills and an amulet that curses. Blending Chinese superstition with fantasy, this story also highlights the social issue of children left behind by working parents.

 

Are there any books set in exotic places that you know of? Drop it in the comments below and I’ll check them out!

First published 1 Aug 2019. Reposted on 25 Jan 2020 for Multicultural Children’s Book Day.