Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade

Skunk & Badger are an odd couple you’ll love

Skunk and Badger (Skunk and Badger #1), by Amy Timberlake/Illustrated by Jon Klassen,, (Sept. 2020, Algonquin), $18.95, ISBN: 9781643750057

Ages 8-12

This is an utterly adorable, amusing story of two unlikely friends. Badger, a rock scientist, lives on his own in his aunt’s house, doing very important rock science; when Skunk shows up at his door, he’s a little taken aback – he clearly hasn’t been reading his aunt’s letters, telling him he’ll be getting a roommate! – and he reluctantly lets Skunk into his home, and, slowly but surely, his life. You see, Skunk is much more of a free spirit than Badger: he cooks delicious meals, zings potatoes across the room while he’s cooking, and makes friends with chickens! Badger, who lives a functional and regimented life, is not sure about this whole Skunk business. After a big sleep over with the chickens leads to an incident where Skunk accidentally sprays Badger, the two have a falling and Skunk leaves; as he’s sadly said before, “No one wants a skunk”. Skunk’s departure gets Badger thinking about what makes a good friend – and is determined to find Skunk and makes amends.

Newbery Honor author Amy Timberlake and Caldecott Medal Winner Jon Klassen create an enduring story of compassion, embracing differences, and friendship. Badger is a lovable curmudgeon, paired with idealist, extroverted Skunk – but Skunk knows all too well how he’s perceived by others. When Badger loses his temper and calls him “vermin”, Skunk draws the line between endearing grouchiness and unacceptable treatment. Jon Klassen’s artwork fits perfectly with this sedate, sweet story; he gives memorable scenes life and makes this a book about friendship that kids will turn to again and again. You know what I’m going to say: Frog and Toad fans, this is the book for you. I can’t wait to see what Skunk and Badger get up to next.

Skunk and Badger has starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist.


Posted in Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Women's History

Votes for Women! Suffrage was a fight every inch of the way.

Votes for Women! American Suffragists and the Battle for the Ballot, by Winifred Conkling, (Feb. 2018, Algonquin Young Readers), $19.95, ISBN: 9781616207342

Recommended for readers 12+

Winifred Conkling is emerging as a definitive chronicler of women’s history. Passenger on the Pearl told the story of Emily Edmondson, who escaped slavery and dedicated her life to education young African-American women; Radioactive! gave long-overdue props to Irène Curie & Lise Meitner, whose work on radioactivity was often overlooked in a male-dominated field; now, Votes for Women gives us a comprehensive history of the fight for American suffrage, long before women finally won the right to vote in 1920. For readers who may only be familiar with Susan B. Anthony, this volume is indispensable, introducing readers to Elizabeth Cady Stanton; Susan B. Anthony’s counterpart and founder of the suffrage movement, and Alice Paul, who took her cue from the more action-oriented British suffrage movement, and went to jail for the cause, where she and fellow protestors suffered deplorable conditions and were force-fed. We meet Victoria Woodhull, the first female Presidential candidate, and revisit Sojourner Truth’s famous speech, “Ain’t I A Woman?” Most importantly, we learn about the beginnings of intersectional feminism; when abolitionists and suffragists found common ground – and then diverged under political fire.

This is a comprehensive book, complete with photos, primary sources, and writing that never turns away from the more difficult moments in the battle for the vote: from racism to violence, it’s all here. It’s a good book for your nonfiction collections and women’s history collections for middle school and high school, with extensive primary source references, a timeline of American women’s suffrage, a bibliography, notes, and an index. Booktalk this with the graphic novel, Sally Heathcote: Suffragette by Mary M. and Bryan Talbot, which features a fictional character from the British movement, and is a great hook to get teens interested. A Mighty Girl has a strong list of additional reading, filtered by age, on suffrage.



Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

What is the Secret of Dreadwillow Carse?

dreadwillowThe Secret of Dreadwillow Carse, by Brian Farrey (Apr. 2016, Algonquin Young Readers), $16.95, ISBN: 9781616205058

Recommended for ages 8-12

In a fantasy kingdom where all the subjects are deliriously happy, two girls bond over their mutual feelings of sorrow, helplessness, and ultimately, determination. Princess Jeniah is a 12 year-old Queen Ascendant; her mother is dying and she’s got very little time left to learn to be a queen, let alone to process the grief she’s feeling. Her mother’s cryptic message about the mysterious bog, Dreadwillow Carse, fires up her curiosity: “If you enter the Carse, the monarchy will fall.”

At the same time, a village girl, Aon, loses her father when the Crimson Hoods come and take him away, ostensibly to become the next advisor to the monarchy. The villagers barely recognize that he’s gone, and Aon – who’s already lost her mother to the Carse – is bereft. Aon is not like the other villagers. She feels a sadness she can’t explain. All the time.

When the two girls encounter one another, Jeniah asks Aon for a favor: explore the Carse. The monarchy can ask someone else to enter the Carse, after all, can’t they? In return, Aon asks Jeniah to send her father home. This meeting sets each girl off on her own personal voyage of discovery, where they’ll uncover long-kept secrets of the Carse, the monarchy, and most importantly, about themselves.

On the face of it, this is an interesting middle grade fantasy tale, with multicultural characters and a Big Secret to be uncovered. Read a little deeper, and you discover that this is an interesting portrayal of pre-adolesence set in a high fantasy setting. A villager and a monarch bond over their mutual sadness, that they feel they can never show to others. The people around them are either keeping secrets from them, as with Jeniah, or are wandering through life in a false delirium, refusing to see what’s going on around them, as with Aon. Aon feels a sadness no other villager can grasp, and she feels frustrated and ignored. The Carse’s presence holds so many answers, but they’re discouraged from venturing in. They have to work together to find answers, and those answers will reveal terrible truths about those around them.

Tweens will identify with the girls and their feelings of frustration; many will understand the undercurrent of seemingly inexplicable sadness and the pressure to put on a smiling face. They’ll share Jeniah’s frustration with her tutor, who answers all of her questions with questions – she has to learn not only to question everything, but to weigh the answers in front of her before she acts. The character development is built steadily through the book, with small plot reveals throughout leading readers further and further, until they reach the conclusion that hits hard and leaves a lot of questions in its wake. This is a great book to hold a discussion group with. I’ll be booktalking it for sure.

A good addition to middle grade collections and fantasy fans’ TBRs. Author insights and an excerpt are available on the Algonquin website. The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse has received a starred review from School Library Journal.

Posted in Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Uncategorized, Women's History

Radioactive! The story of two women scientists and how they changed the world.

radioactiveRadioactive!: How Irène Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World, by Winifred Conkling (Jan. 2016, Algonquin Young Readers), $17.95, ISBN: 9781616204150

Recommended for ages 12+

Most of us know who Marie Curie was: the scientist who pioneered the study of radioactivity. But how many know that her daughter, Irène, was an accomplished scientist in her own right, whose studies on radioactivity, physics, and the transmutation of elements earned her a Nobel prize, shared with her husband? Have you heard of Lise Meitner, the physicist whose work in physics – often published in conjunction with her friend and research partner, Otto Hahn – led to the discovery of nuclear fission? She was passed over for a Nobel for several reasons, not the least of which involved her being straight-up robbed by a partner who took credit for much of her work during the World War II years, when she was exiled in Sweden.

Radioactive! tells the stories of these two very important women and their historical research. We learn Irène’s story from the beginning, as the daughter of celebrated scientist, Marie Curie. She worked by her mother’s side, operating an x-ray machine on World War I battlefields, eventually going on to further her mother’s work in radioactivity along with her chemist husband, Pierre Joliot. We learn about Lise Meitner, whose work put her in competition with Curie many times, but experienced more sexism and prejudice than Curie ever did. When Hitler rose to power in the 1930s, her Jewish heritage created problems at her research position, where former colleagues turned against her and demanded she resign; she was eventually forced her to flee Austria for Sweden or end up in a concentration camp. Although she continued to consult with Hahn on their nuclear fission research, he took credit for her work and took home the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1944.

I’ve been looking for biographies on women in science for my tweens and teens, and this certainly fits the bill. There are photographs throughout the book, and Ms. Conkling provides strong backgrounds on both Curie and Mietner, making them live again, making the reader care about them, and explaining physics, fission, and radioactive science in terms that we can all wrap our heads around. A valuable addition to libraries and classrooms, and a great book for anyone who wants to inspire the next generation of scientists – female OR male.

Winifred Conkling is an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction for young readers, including Passenger on the Pearl: The True Story of Emily Edmonson’s Flight from Slavery and the middle-grade novel Sylvia and Aki, winner of the Jane Addams Children’s Literature Award and the Tomás Rivera Award. Her author website provides teacher guides for her books. There is no guide up for Radioactive yet, but I’m sure there will be one closer to the book’s publication date.