FLASH REVIEW: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

By Maureen Tai, 18 July 2021

Newbery Medal-winning When You Reach Me (ages 11+) is Rebecca Stead’s clever, mind-bending, sci-fi-esque, mystery-whodunnit that will appeal to fans of A Wrinkle In Time. Sixth grader Miranda receives mysterious notes instructing her to write a letter – a true story – and to keep it a secret. Even more disquieting is the fact that the note-leaver seems able to predict the future, and Miranda discovers to her horror that she might be too late to prevent an imminent death. In authentic teen voices, Stead expertly weaves an intricate plot (with a gasp-inducing twist at the end), creating a thought-provoking, gripping and satisfying read for both teens and adults alike.

Orchards by Holly Thompson

By Maureen Tai, 27 June 2021

I read Orchards (ages 12+) many years ago after having had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with the author at a children’s book conference in Singapore. I’ve never forgotten the compelling story, nor Holly’s warm and calming aura, so effortlessly exuded.

Suicide is a difficult topic in any culture and for any age. Holly’s compelling verse novel about a 13 year old mixed-race girl grappling with a classmate’s self-inflicted death explores this darkness with raw honesty, careful thought, measured pacing and sparse, beautiful writing.

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Flash Review: Love That Dog by Sharon Creech

By Maureen Tai, 13 June 2021

Love That Dog (ages 8+) is a delightful verse novel, written as a series of diary-like ruminations of a (likely 10-year old) boy called Jack. We learn that Jack is a reluctant poet. Through his eyes, we see his teacher Miss Stretchberry, persisting. She shares different forms and styles of poetry and encourages Jack to explore poetry as a way of connecting with his emotions and telling life stories. Through his writing, we see Jack change as he becomes more comfortable with words, as he’s able to confront the raw, poignant truth about his beloved dog, Sky and as he’s able to share his story not just with his classmates but with a bona fide, real poet and author – the incredible Walter Dean Myers (1937-2014). This beautifully written, gently humorous and deeply thoughtful middle grade story (short! coming in at 86 pages) is signature Creech and one to treasure, whether you’re a poet or not (or if you just didn’t know it).

Flash Review: The Cat Who Came In Off The Roof by Annie M.G. Schmidt

By Maureen Tai, 6 June 2021

At its heart, middle-grade novel The Cat Who Came In Off The Roof (ages 9+) by Dutch author, Annie M.G. Schmidt is a love story. Mr. Tibbles is a cat-loving reporter who has run out of stories. Minou is a cat-like young lady who has odd behavioural traits. They meet. Or more accurately, Mr. Tibbles saves Minou from an angry dog. Minou moves in (sleeping in a box in Tibble’s junk room). Mr. Tibbles becomes privy to interesting news, relayed by Minou and gathered from a network of feline sources. They solve a crime together. And yes, they fall in love. While this book – written half a century ago – features mostly adult protagonists (almost unheard of now for middle grade books), they are charming, interesting and whimsical enough to appeal to young children. Cat lovers in particular, will adore the memorable cast of cat characters, from the brazen Tatter Cat to the rather clueless History Cat to the rotund Metropole Cat. A short, fun read for the summer.