Beetle Boy by M.G. Leonard

By Ben, 17 May 2020

“Tracing the constellations his father had taught him to recognize, he wondered if somewhere under this night sky his father was looking up and thinking of him.”

IMG_8847My paperback edition of Beetle Boy has colourful and intricately designed beetles printed on one of its edges. If I must be honest, that is what drew me to the book when I picked it up at a Waterstones in London several years ago. What drew me to it this time around was my desire to introduce my 9 year old to more challenging adventure-driven middle grade stories. This is what Ben thought.

M: Can you tell me what Beetle Boy is about without spoiling it?
B: It’s about a boy called Darkus whose dad goes missing. Darkus, his Uncle Max, and his friends, Virginia and Bertolt, are trying to find out where he went. Did he get kidnapped? And how did he go missing?
M: I see. So this is a Missing Person mystery. What is the protagonist like?
B: You mean the main person? Well, Darkus is a nice boy because he really wants to find his dad, and he’s smart because he comes up with all sorts of plans.
M: Is he your favourite character in the book?
B: Err, no, I don’t actually have a favourite character. I don’t know why.
M: OK then, why don’t you name me some characters that you remember and why they are particularly memorable to you?
B: There’s Bertolt, a nerdy kid, and Virginia, who is really sporty.
M: These are the good guys, right?
B: Yeah. Should we tell people about the bad guys?
M: That might be helpful.
B: Well, the main villain is Lucretia Cutter who used to be a scientist but is now a rich fashion person. She always wears dark glasses and a laboratory coat and wears gold lipstick. She has walking sticks, but they’re not really walking sticks, they are …
M: Hmmm, I don’t think we should give too much away. No spoilers, right?
B: Oh yeah. Well, she’s the main evil person. There are two other bad people, Humphrey and Pickering, but they don’t really work for Lucretia Cutter. They’re Darkus’ neighbours and they are rude and they always fight with each other.
M: So what about the beetles, like in the title of the book? Are there beetles in this story?
B: Yeah, because Darkus finds a beetle who can understand humans. For example, if Darkus tells the beetle to do a loop-de-loop, the beetle does it, so it can follow human instructions. Basically, the beetle becomes Darkus’ pet and he gets called Baxter after like, a soup box or something.
M: I see. Is Baxter the only human-like, intelligent beetle?
B: No, there are some other clever beetles that they find that become pets of Bertolt and Virginia, and they all end up working together to try to find Darkus’ dad, which …
M: Ah ah ah! No giving away the end now.
B: Oh yeah. It’s hard not to give away the ending!
M: Did you learn anything about beetles after reading this book?
B: Umm, well. Maybe that there are lots of types of beetles? My favourite was the Goliath beetle because it is very big and it has a cool name. But it is really sad because in the end …
M: OK, I think we can wrap this up now. So, would you recommend this book and why?
B: Yes, I would because it’s a scary book, but still pretty interesting and you keep wanting to turn the pages to read it.
M: Lastly, three words to describe the story.
B: Ummmmm. Intriguing. Worrying. Funny, but only sometimes. Can I play with my Switch now?
M: [Eye-roll]

For ages 8 and up.

 

 

Stig & Tilde: Vanisher’s Island by Max de Radiguès

By Maureen Tai, 31 March 2020

“In our town, for as long as anyone can remember, when a kid turns 14 years old, they must leave by boat to one of the hundreds of islands around the town and survive alone, for a year. When they return, they officially step into adulthood. It’s what we call ‘kulku.’ ” – Tilde

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I adore graphic novels published by Nobrow for their large formats, rustic, unfinished paper and striking colours – in addition to their unique and captivating stories of course (see our reviews of other Nobrow publications, Hilda and The Troll  and Akissi, Tales of Mischief ). Stig & Tilde lives up to this tradition, distinguishing itself as an exciting coming-of-age adventure story about, and for, young teens.

Continue reading

The Unwanted by Don Brown

By Ben, 29 March 2020

IMG_7162‘Stay strong and think
of that word … which they
call “HOPE” ‘ – Sahir Noah

Horrifying thought: the Syrian crisis is almost as old as my son, who turns 10 later this year. As Ben becomes mature enough to understand and to bear some of the more grim realities of the world around him, I turn to The Unwanted, a powerful non-fiction graphic novel, to help him learn about the civil war that continues to rage in Syria, and from which millions of Syrians – gambling with their lives – have fled and continue to flee. Better the soulful pain of open eyes than the empty bliss of wilful ignorance. Continue reading

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott & illustrated by Harmony Becker

By Maureen Tai, 20 March 2020

“People can do great things, George. They can come up with noble, shining ideals. But people are also fallible human beings. And we know they made a terrible mistake.” – Takekuma Norman Takei

IMG_6837It is in times of crises that the true nature of a person emerges. It is during those same times when individuals in positions of leadership or power can either save or savage. We are witnessing this play out in real time as the world grapples with the novel coronavirus pandemic, and we witnessed this over half a decade ago. At the end of 1941, the surprise attack by the Japanese army of the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, marked the USA’s entry into World War II. The lives of thousands of Americans of Japanese descent were irrevocably altered by human decisions and actions based on fear, hate and at the heart of it all, racism. In They Called Us Enemy, a sobering graphic novel that is accessible to and appropriate for even slightly younger readers, we learn how one particular Japanese American family, the Takeis, lived through those challenging times. Continue reading

The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters: The Jolly Regina by Kara LaReau & illustrated by Jen Hill

By Ben, 17 March 2020

“The Bland Sisters look forward most to the evenings, when they entertain themselves by reading the dictionary to each other, then staring at the wallpaper until they fall asleep.” 

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Several years ago, the Senior Blands went to run an errand. They never returned. Their two children, Jaundice and Kale (their real names) could have gone on a tear, thrown boisterous parties or played video games all day while eating crisps. They did not. Instead, the identical twin sisters fell into a routine that included darning socks for a living, reading a dictionary for pleasure (as well as for knowledge and insider tips), watching grass grow and consuming cheese sandwiches. The Bland Sisters loved their introverted, predictable, simple and efficient lives. Until a knock sounded on their front door. Continue reading

Dear Sister by Alison McGhee & illustrated by Joe Bluhm

By Maureen Tai, 13 March 2020

“Dear Sister, Life was a lot less complicated before they brought you home. Just sayin’. From, Brother.”

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The sibling relationship is a complex one, especially in the early years. Brothers/sisters who are co-conspirators, confidantes and playmates morph at the turn of a screw into bitter enemies, competitors and annoyances. Anna and Ben, born three years apart, exemplify this dichotomy. My own sibling experience however, was quite different, mostly due to the large age gap of nearly ten years between myself and my younger sister. The paucity of overlapping years made for a more detached connection, at least in the formative years. In my forays into children’s literature, I’ve always been a little disappointed that I haven’t come across any books that feature the unique relationship of spaced-out siblings (as in years of birth, not mental state) as the main plot. Until now. Continue reading

Go With The Flow by Lily Williams & Karen Schneemann

By Maureen Tai, 10 March 2020

“Talking about periods is the first step to taking that period power back.” – Abby

IMG_6353 I was 10. I remember cycling to our neighbourhood kedai runcit (convenience store) in Ipoh, the sleepy town in Malaysia where I grew up. I had to pick up some freshly squeezed coconut milk, a loaf of Sunshine bread and a box of Kotex sanitary pads. The Ah Soh at the store handed me the items, but insisted on wrapping up the box of pads with newspaper before I could leave. I didn’t want to miss the start of Gilligan’s Island so I said I didn’t care if it was wrapped or not. “Shameful mah!” she whispered, pushing the parcel into my hands as if it were contraband. For many years afterwards, her words echoed in my ears every time I went to buy pads, by then for my own use, and my cheeks would burn. Continue reading