Flash Review: The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

By Maureen Tai, 16 May 2021

12-year old Ellie Cruz has hardly time to mourn the demise of her best friendship. She’s too busy plotting to steal a mysterious jellyfish from her grandfather’s laboratory, surviving her healthily divorced, dramatic parents, savouring her new-found love of science and getting used to living with her tie-wearing, bathroom-hogging, Chinese-takeaway-loving teen cousin. Except he isn’t really her cousin at all, or a teen for that matter … Holm has created a multi-faceted and multi-layered middle grade contemporary novel that is, at its heart, about inevitable endings and the hopeful beginnings that come after. Imaginative, clever and funny, The Fourteenth Goldfish (ages 10+) is a thoughtful read that will linger long after the final page.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

By Ben, 9 May 2021

I’d heard all about Wonder, a contemporary, realistic fiction middle grade novel about a boy with a disfigured face, long before the movie came out. In fact, a dog-eared, second-hand copy was buried deep within the towering stack of books in my bedroom, but for some reason, I’d never gotten round to reading it. So, as the days in 2021 rolled on interminably (as they have become accustomed to in this global pandemic), Ben and I finally dug the book out and read it together. What we discovered was one of the most moving yet enjoyable and well-written reads that we’ve shared in a while. But don’t just take my word for it …

M: First of all, did you like Wonder?
B: Yeah, it was good.
M: Can you tell me what the story is about?
B: It’s about a boy called Auggie Pullman and he has a facial thing…disorder?
M: I think you mean ‘deformity.’
B: Oh yeah, right. He has a facial deformity. He used to be homeschooled all the time, but in the book, he was going to start school for the first time, in 5th grade.
M: Uh oh. There’s trouble right there. Middle school in a new school. So, how does that go?
B: Obviously, the book will have to have bullies and it does. There’s this boy called Julian and there are a few more actually, but I can’t remember their names.
M: Oh dear. But there are always good guys too, right?
B: Obviously, yeah. There is a boy called Jack Will, and a girl called Summer, and they become Auggie’s friends. Auggie also has an older sister called Via – short for Olivia – who has a best friend called Miranda. Oh yeah, and he has a nice mum and dad.
M: Are those the main characters?
B: Yeah, pretty much. And there are no numbered chapters, but different parts of the story are told from different perspectives, so the first part is told by Auggie, then Summer, then Jack and some others.
M: That’s interesting. I like different voices in a story, it makes it more interesting, and different people perceive things differently too, so you get more of a feel for the characters when you can hear their thoughts. What was your favourite part in this story? Can you say, without any spoilers?
B: Ummm, I liked the part where Auggie was saved from these bullying 8th graders by his friends, but I can’t tell you when or where because that’s a spoiler.
M: Ok. Who was your favourite character then?
B: Probably Summer because she was nice to Auggie and she always says ‘cool beans’ and also Jack Will.
M: So what lesson did you learn from this book?
B: I think, that it’s ok to be different, we’re all unique in our different ways. Even though he had this deformity, Auggie was brave and he had to be a risk taker and go to school even though he didn’t want to, and he had to be responsible not to fight back against his bullies or just try to ignore them.
M: So, on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the best score, how would you rate Wonder?
B: 10 probably, because I liked it a lot.
M: Ok. Thanks Ben.
B: You’re welcome. Now can I play Roblox?
M: … (rolls eyes and sighs)

For ages 8 and up.

Flash Review: This is Hong Kong by M. Sasek

By Maureen Tai, 28 March 2021

Turning the pages of M. Sasek’s classic This is Hong Kong (ages 5+) with its evocative, detailed illustrations, is like stepping into history, to a time when the city’s streets were teeming: with rickshaws, hawkers and labourers carrying dried fish, silks or bricks on the end of bamboo poles, stylishly-coiffed ladies in cheongsams, and tourists seeking all manner of exotic goods. While some landmarks – notably the Tiger Balm Garden and Kai Tak Airport – and some sights – floating schools, traffic controllers in gazebos – no longer exist, Sasek’s pictorial ode to Hong Kong is enchanting for readers of all ages.

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

By Maureen Tai, 18 March 2021

The wood was at the center, the hub of the wheel. All wheels must have a hub. A Ferris wheel has one, as the sun is the hub of the wheeling calendar. Fixed points they are, and best left undisturbed, for without them, nothing holds together. But sometimes people find this out too late.

From the Prologue, Tuck Everlasting

I have to remind myself sometimes that when I extoll the virtues of reading “the Classics,” the Great Expectations and Jane Austen that I grew up with are now texts from the mists of antiquity and of absolutely no interest to my modern tween. But we still read together, my thirteen-going-on-eighteen-year old child and I, and we read Tuck Everlasting, as close to a classic as you can get these days. And what a marvellous classic this is.

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