A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

By Maureen Tai, 21 July 2020

“Tree-ear was so called after the mushroom that grew in wrinkled half-circles on dead or fallen tree trunks, emerging from the rotten wood without benefit of parent seed. A good name for an orphan, Crane-man said.” 

IMG_2379 I love fictional middle-grade stories set in an unfamiliar time and place, be it in the past, present or distant imagined future, which also retain a link to people or things that are real or once tangible. In addition to the satisfaction of having read a good yarn, it is exciting to discover something new about the world. It’s a little like finally finding out the use for that doohickey that’s sat in the kitchen drawer for years. Linda Sue Park’s engrossing A Single Shard hits both notes. It tells the story of a possibly 12 year old boy called Tree-ear, and is set in a little village in Korea in the 12th century during a period when Korean celadon pottery was at its zenith. The exquisite jade green colour of this pottery, which also featured delicate inlay work, was achieved through the confluence of skilled artisanship, unwavering dedication, purity of materials and creative innovation. In Tree-ear’s case, he has some helping hands along the way. Continue reading

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes & illustrated by Louis Slobodkin

By Ben, 30 June 2020

Wanda lived way up on Boggins Heights, and Boggins Heights was no place to live.

IMG_2234I read The Hundred Dresses some years ago, when Anna was still in lower school. Back then, she was grappling with playground politics for the first time – best friends who made unreasonable requests and cliques that excluded her because she didn’t have the latest trendy toy – and fumbling miserably. I listened to her woes, soothed and counselled but decided ultimately, to allow her to find her own solutions and to make her own way. “Little girls can be so mean,” was a common refrain from other parents, and I urged Anna to try as best she could but in every circumstance to be kind, regardless of how others were treating her. She didn’t always succeed, but then again, neither did I when I was her age, nor did Maddie and Peggy, the two main characters in Eleanor Estes’ classic story about a little girl who is ostracised and bullied by her unkind classmates. Continue reading

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