Small Saul by Ashley Spires


Small Saul by Ashley Spires
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Genre: Childrens, Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

From the creator of Binky the Space Cat, a hilarious story about an unconventional little pirate.

Ahoy there! Will this sweet little pirate find his place aboard The Rusty Squid or will he be forced to walk the plank?

When Small Saul joins the crew of The Rusty Squid, it doesn’t take long for the other pirates to notice something is very different about this tiny fellow. He was born to sing sea shanties, bake pineapple upside down cakes and redecorate, not to hold a sword and plunder. Being rough and tough just isn’t in his nature.

Small Saul learned at Pirate College that pirates only care about three things: their ship, being tough and lots and lots of treasure. Can Small Saul show these ruffians that despite his gentle spirit, he’s worth his weight in gold? With treasure chests of laughs, Small Saul’s high-seas adventure is a light-hearted celebration of individuality, perseverance and being true to one’s self.

If you’ve ever struggled to fit in, keep reading.

This story had so much compassion for kids who have quirky personalities or interests. Small Saul was far more interested in cooking delicious food than he was in being aggressive, and that was only one of the many ways in which he was nothing at all like his peers. I loved seeing the friendly way the narrator treated this character and, by extension, all of the young kids hearing this tale who had their own special ways of relating to the world. There is enough room in the world for every type of personality to flourish, and Ms. Spires did a very good job at making Saul a relatable and wonderful role model for his audience.

I would have liked to see a little more attention paid to why Saul decided to be a pirate in the first place. While the plot did briefly talk about why this character picked a job that was so wildly different from his interests in life, I was surprised by how many other aquatic careers that might have suited him better weren’t even considered when Saul was deciding what he wanted to do with his life. With that being said, this was a minor criticism of a tale that I enjoyed quite a bit.

Some of my favorite scenes were the ones that showed the humorous side of being an unconventional pirate. Saul’s shipmates seriously didn’t know what to make of him when he first began sailing with them. He was a kind, sensitive guy who didn’t care about sword fights or stealing treasure. They were stereotypical pirates in every way, from their stinky living quarters to their obsession with becoming wealthy one day. The sharp contrast between him and them lead to several funny moments that made me giggle out loud.

Small Saul should be read by people of all ages who love pirates or who dance to the beat of their own drum.

Ebba, the First Easter Hare by Leen Lefebre

 
Ebba, the First Easter Hare by Leen Lefebre
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Holiday, Historical
Length: Short Story (80 pages)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

King Stern rules over a dark empire of hares. His brother Atta leaves. Before his love Hulde gives birth to their first child, he wants to find a field of his own, bathing in light. Every day Hulde runs to the frontier, where she stands on the lookout for Atta. But then the baby arrives, too soon.

At a rapid pace, Princess Ebba grows into a smart child. Hulde notices that this curious girl resembles Atta more and more – and that is not a gift. When they discover an abandoned bird’s nest in a rabbit cave, Ebba wants to go on a trip just like her father. But, is she as brave as him?

No one is ever too small or too young to make a difference in the world.

Ebba was such a compassionate and brave character. She lived in a world that was full of danger for hares and other animals, and she knew the risks she was taking when she decided to break the rules of her society. I liked her as soon as I met her, but seeing her decide to break those rules no matter what the consequences would be made me like her even more than I already did.

This story had a slow beginning. Roughly the first third of it was spent introducing the characters and exploring the world they lived in. As interested as I was in what it would be like to be part of a hare kingdom, this didn’t leave enough space for Princess Ebba’s later adventures once she grew old enough to leave her mother. It would have been nice to have more time to get to know Ebba after she discovered what was in the next and decided how she was going to react to it.

The ending made me smile. Not only did it fit Ebba’s personality perfect, it tied up all of the important loose ends of the plot that hadn’t been resolved yet. While I would like to know what happened next in her life because of how much I liked this character, I was also satisfied by what the narrator shared about what happened to her as she grew older.

I’d recommend Ebba, the First Easter Hare to anyone who enjoys fantasy adventure tales.

When the World Is Full of Friends by Gillian Shields


When the World Is Full of Friends by Gillian Shields
Publisher: Bloomsbury Childrens Books
Genre: Childrens, Historical
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

When the world
is full of friends,
the fun and laughter
never ends.

Albert, Tom, Flossie, and Pipkin love to play. And while they have fun inventing games together, their biggest wish is to have friends to share them with. One day, something magical happens. A family of squirrels moves in across the stream! They could be the perfect friends–but how will they cross the stream?

With a little help from Father Rabbit, Albert, Tom, Flossie, and Pipkin will discover just how wonderful it is when the world is full of friends. This touching story from the revered team behind When the World Is Ready for Bed and When the World Was Waiting for You will warm the hearts of readers young and old.

Sometimes you have to put some effort into making a new friend.

Making new friends definitely isn’t always as easy as it seems, especially when it requires solving a problem first. I liked the fact that Albert and his siblings had to plan ahead of time how they might accomplish their goal and then work together to try to achieve it. That’s a good message to share with this age group, and all of these rabbits were excellent role models.

The plot was a little thin. While I was expecting a sweet and gentle tale that was meant for a young and sensitive audience, I would have liked to see the rabbit family work harder to figure out how to cross the stream so they could meet their new friends. There simply wasn’t enough conflict as it was written to keep me interested in reading. Even one more attempt at solving that problem would have been enough for me to choose a much higher rating.

Albert and his family were so cooperative with each other. I enjoyed seeing them brainstorm possible ways to cross the stream safely as a group. They listened to each other nicely and took everyone’s opinions into consideration before they tried one of their ideas. I also appreciated the fact that they explained why some ideas might work better than other ones. Their reasoning made sense, and it also helped me keep reading until the end.

When the World Is Full of Friends would make a peaceful bedtime story.

The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith


The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith
Publisher: Penguin Books
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical
Length: Short Story (64 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

The Fox and the Star is the story of a friendship between a lonely Fox and the Star who guides him through the frightfully dark forest. Illuminated by Star’s rays, Fox forages for food, runs with the rabbits, and dances in the rain—until Star suddenly goes out and life changes, leaving Fox huddling for warmth in the unfamiliar dark. To find his missing Star, Fox must embark on a wondrous journey beyond the world he knows—a journey lit by courage, newfound friends, and just maybe, a star-filled new sky.

Inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement and the art of William Blake, The Fox and the Star is a heartwarming, hopeful tale which comes alive through Bickford-Smith’s beloved illustrations, guiding readers both young and grown to “look up beyond your ears.”

Sometimes best friends come in the most unusual combinations. For example, a little fox can meet up with the star who shines on him every night to explore the forest and spend quality time together.

Fox’s friendship with Star was well-developed and beautiful. I’d never imagined a wild animal paying any attention to the night sky before, so I was curious to see how their connection worked and what would happen to them next. The more I read about their unique bond, the more I wanted to know. Ms. Bickford-Smith included a lot of emotion into those scenes, and that made this friendship something I want to read about over and over again.

There were a few things about the plot that I never quite understood. For example, where did Star go when Fox could no longer find his friend? The narrator danced around this question a lot, and the answer that was provided didn’t satisfy me. I would have preferred to see more time spent exploring this because of how important it was for Fox’s quest to figure out what happened to his buddy.

The ending was perfect for this whimsical story, though. It was every bit as poetic as the beginning and the middle had been, and that made me smile. I felt like it was written for adults just as much as it was for kids. That’s something I always like to see in children’s books. There’s nothing like being able to reinterpret the same scenes in different ways as a reader grows older.

The Fox and the Star should be read by anyone who loves fairy tales.

To Wish Upon a Star by Scott MacDonald


To Wish Upon a Star by Scott MacDonald
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full length (242 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by: Orchid

Megan Brandt was a shy, lonely teenager secretly in love with a boy in school who didn’t even know she existed. It’s a common scenario that many young girls face and the resolution is typically something simple, like a makeover. Megan’s solution, however, was a little less prosaic than that. She chose to enter into a contract to have her wish fulfilled magically by a bitter and alcoholic 132yr. old Gypsy fortuneteller with a lot of unresolved anger issues. A makeover would’ve been so much easier. Years later, long after the wish had been made, the time had finally come for the people involved to seek out each other and understand the truth of what really happened on that one miraculous night.

 

One of the worst things about being a teenage girl is to be in love with someone who doesn’t know you exist. Megan loves Nick but he doesn’t even look at her. When the chance comes to wish upon a shooting star, Megan thinks of Nick and agrees to the terms of the gypsy who offers her this chance.

Nick is on the football team and is usually surrounded by adoring girls, but on the night of the wish he is stupid and falls from the ferris wheel. He ends up in hospital and is not expected to survive. This makes Megan change her wish at the last minute.

The maxim – be careful what you wish for – is in full force in this book, both for Megan and for the gypsy who also had a life changing event when she wished on the star and is out for revenge.

I enjoyed this book, the storyline was unusual and had a lot of twists and turns which kept my interest alive. Together – apart – together is how the story proceeds and I have to say I loved Rocket, Nick’s dog. The only flaw was the presence of several editing errors. Good read though.

Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke

Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke
Publisher: First Second
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Short Story (40 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Goblin, a cheerful little homebody, lives in a cosy, rat-infested dungeon, with his only friend, Skeleton. Every day, Goblin and Skeleton play with the treasure in their dungeon. But one day, a gang of “heroic” adventurers bursts in. These marauders trash the place, steal all the treasure, and make off with Skeleton—leaving Goblin all alone!

It’s up to Goblin to save the day. But first he’s going to have to leave the dungeon and find out how the rest of the world feels about goblins.

The world looks completely different when it’s viewed through the eyes of a goblin.

This was such an inventive twist on what happens in the typical fantasy tale. I’d never thought about what the average quest must look like from the perspective of the monsters whose homes and lives are turned upside down. What humans see as an adventure had a completely different meaning when the storyline focused on how they disrupted the quiet life of a goblin and skeleton who never meant to do any harm to anyone.

Goblin was such a loyal friend to Skeleton. I loved seeing them spend time playing together in the beginning, and I couldn’t wait to find out if Goblin would be able to rescue his buddy from the humans who kidnapped him. The thought of them never seeing each other again made me sad. I hoped Goblin would find a way to figure out where Skeleton had been taken, but I had no idea how that might happen. The further away from home his journey took him, the more curious I became to see what would happen next.

I really appreciated how understated the message of this tale was. It had a lot of important things to say about the dangers of negative stereotypes and how everyone should treat people they don’t know, but the narrator never sermonized the points they were trying to make. Instead, the audience was given many opportunities to see what happens when someone jumps to the worst possible conclusion without taking any time to reflect on what is really happening around them. This is something that adult readers can enjoy just as much as kids because of how open-ended the questions the narrator raised were and how much freedom the audience was given to think about what they’d read.

Nobody Likes a Goblin was the most creative children’s story I’ve read so far this year. I can’t recommend it highly enough!

Cast No Shadows Anthology


Cast No Shadows by Jordan Elizabeth, Derek McFadden, Grace M. DeLeesie, Ashley Pasco, Al Dorantes,‎ Kae P. Quinn, Tracina Cozza, Heather Talty, James McNally, Gloria Slade, C.K. Raggio, A.F. Plant, W.K. Pomeroy, A. Elizabeth Zumchak, Misha Murphy, Joan O. Scharf, Nicole Green, Lorna MacDonald Czarnota, Jeremy Mortis, Amy L. Gale, Lisa Oak, Rachel Pond, Grant Eagar, Clare Weze, Molly Jauregui, Christine Baker
Publisher: Curiosity Quills Press
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Holiday, Contemporary, Historical
Length: Full Length (479 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Welcome to the shadowed woods, where the trees breathe with ghosts and the wind whispers of the past.

Twenty-six authors take you through haunted houses and cemeteries with tales that will chill.

Beware the dark, for the spirits await you.

No two ghosts are like in this anthology! Just like humans, they can be sad, frightening, sentimental, and even kind.

“Ghostly Affection” followed the friendship of a ghost child and a little boy name Tommy she first met when he was sent to live at the foster home she’d been haunting. They grew up together but were always bothered by the fact that Tommy was the only person who could see her and that neither of them ever noticed other ghosts in the same predicament. The plot twists were really well done. I didn’t see most of them coming, and the ones I did figure out in advance still managed to surprise me in many other ways. What made them even better was how they were all resolved in the last scene. It was the perfect ending to something I enjoyed quite a bit.

This collection was uneven. There were stories I loved just as they were and others I thought could have used more polishing. “Moving In with the Ghost” was one of the ones that could have benefited from some extra development. As much as I liked the idea of a family knowing in advance that they were moving into a haunted home and choosing to live there anyway, Daniel and Geri sure didn’t take that warning seriously. These characters weren’t developed enough for me to know if this was unusual for them or if they were unwilling to take advice in general. Not being sure what their personalities were like in general made it hard for me to empathize with them once paranormal things began happening in their new home.

In “Graveyard Dust,” Emma realized she had special powers after both of her parents died. She began to have conversations with her mother’s ghost in the graveyard. Eventually, she began to make plans to attend a dance after getting advice from her mother and the other spirits. What I enjoyed the most about Emma’s life were all of its references to a famous fairy tale that were embedded into it. Seeing how the author reinterpreted those scenes to better fit the paranormal genre made me smile.

If you’re looking for something spooky, Cast No Shadows is a good place to start.

The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater


The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater
Publisher: Beach Lane Books
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Short Story (48 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

An inquisitive fox sets off on a seafaring voyage with a crew of deer and pigeons in this enchanting tale of friendship and adventure.

Marco the fox has a lot of questions, like: how deep does the sun go when it sinks into the sea? And why do birds have such lizardy feet? But none of the other foxes share his curiosity. So when a magnificent ship adorned with antlers and with a deer for a captain arrives at the dock looking for a crew, Marco volunteers, hoping to find foxes who are as inquisitive as he is that can answer his questions. The crew finds adventure and intrigue on their journey. And, at last, Marco finds the answer to his most important question of all: What’s the best way to find a friend you can talk to?

Marco can’t stop wondering about how the world works. Will he find the answers he seeks?

One of my favorite things about this book was how curious Marco was about the world. Not only he was a very smart fox, he was a persistent one as well. He never stopped asking questions even when the other animals around him didn’t understand what he was asking or didn’t know how to respond to him. The better I got to know him, the more I hoped that he’d figure out all of the stuff he couldn’t stop wondering about.

I would have liked to see the fantasy elements of this story explained better. Marco and the other animals regularly did things that animals normally aren’t capable of without any explanation given for how or when they learned to do that stuff. It felt odd to me to ignore this since it played such a huge role in how the plot developed. Even a sentence or two that talked about where their abilities came from would have been enough of an explanation for me.

Anything can happen when a ship is sailing on the ocean. I enjoyed all of the plot twists that snuck up on the characters while they were exploring their world. Some of them made me laugh, and others made me wonder how Marco and his friends would solve the problems they faced while they were traveling. If Ms. Slater ever decides to write a sequel, I’d sure like to find out what happens to these characters next.

The Antlered Ship should be read by anyone who is in the mood for an adventure.

Finn McCool and the Great Fish by Eve Bunting


Finn McCool and the Great Fish by Eve Bunting
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical
Length: Short Story (28 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Finn McCool is the largest giant in all of Ireland. He’s a fierce warrior, even beating the giant Culcullan and saving Ireland from the Scots. Helpful and kind, he helps the farmers bring in the hay. And everyone in the village of Drumnahoon admires him. “He’s the best-hearted man that ever walked on Ireland’s green grass.” But for all his strength, courage, and goodness, there’s one thing that Finn lacks. He’s just not smart. And he knows it. When a wise man living in a nearby village tells Finn about a magical red salmon with the wisdom of the world, Finn sets out to catch the fish. And he learns a thing or two about himself in the process.

Having a good reputation is important for everyone, including giants and other magical folks.

I’d never heard of his legend before, so I was excited to get to know him better and find out what his connection was to the fish that was mentioned in the title. Learning about who Finn was only made me like him even more than I already did. He was such a kind and helpful giant, and he really seemed to care about all of the people who lived in Ireland.

The ending was abrupt. I didn’t see it coming at all, and I was surprised by how many parts of the plot were left unexplored by the final scene. The story just suddenly stopped for reasons I was never able to figure out. Given how much I enjoyed the beginning and the middle, I was pretty surprised by how much I disliked the end. I was honestly expecting to be thrilled with the whole thing.

One of the things I liked the most about this book were all of the friendships between the characters. Everyone looked out for each other in small and big ways. They did everything from bake a fresh loaf of bread for a neighbor to help each other bring in the hay before a thunderstorm ruined that crop. I really enjoyed seeing this community work together to accomplish their goals and make life a little easier for everyone. It set such a positive example for the kids who will read this.

Finn McCool and the Great Fish should be read by anyone who enjoys classic legends and fairy tales.

Secrets from Myself by Christine Hart

Secrets from Myself by Christine Hart
Publisher: Dancing Cat Books
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Paranormal, Mystery
Length: Full Length (180 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Rose

BoM LASR YA copy

Twelve-year-old Katelyn has always heard voices and had visions. She’s long suspected she was hearing from past lives. But when she runs away from home and hides out with an old friend in Vancouver, things become more real. She even finds herself writing the words of someone else in a diary – the words of someone whose fate was deeply impacted by the Komagata Maru incident.

As Katelyn learns more about the Komagata Maru and the person communicating with her, she realizes that she has a task to fulfill that will correct a wrong from the past.

Katelyn is a modern twelve year old who has been having blackouts and discovering strange writing in her diary (in Hindi, no less). She is, understandably, interested in discovering why, while her mother is concerned that she’s having mental or physical issues.

Little by little, Katelyn discovers more and more about Akasha and starts to believe that not only is she discovering another life, she begins to suspect that it is her life in a previous existence.

The book is an easy read, and it was fascinating learning about the history the book is based on. The characters are likeable, even Katelyn’s mom. Being a mom myself, I can easily put myself in her place and understand how very worried she was.

The mystery was interesting. Katelyn proved herself to be resilient as well as resourceful in discovering evidence to support her idea. There were a few times when she acted more precipitously than once might have wished, but she is twelve, after all.

The author has done a wonderful job in tying these two facets of history together. Kudos, Ms. Hart!

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