Fiction, Kidlit, Loved-it, Mini reviews, Well known books

I Come Back With More Middle Grade Mini Reviews! Julie of the Wolves, Fortunately the Milk, Science! The Elements of Dark Energy, The Missing Mortals and The Phantom Tollbooth

Tired of my mini reviews yet? Well, I’m not. So I’m posting another one! It’s just that I’ve been reading so much middle grade / kidlit lately, and so much of it has been amazing! It’s like almost whenever I choose a middle grade title, the likelihood of me giving it 5 stars increases! I may just set off on a Newberry quest like my friend Jackie @ Death by Tsundoku. In fact, she’s the reason I read the first book! So let’s start with that one.

Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George

Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George

Check out on Goodreads
★★★★★ 5 stars
How I read this:
through Scribd free trial

I was absolutely in love with Julie of the Wolves – I finished this story in an evening, and I was so sorry it ended so fast. This story is not only a celebration of the Inuit culture, it’s also a lovesong to other, non-human cultures – I mean animals. The story focuses on wolves and how they adopt a girl who has got lost in the tundra because she was running away from a dangerous situation at home. The love for nature, for the natural (even if harsh) way of life really resonated with me – I’ll always love stories about how people take up the old ways of life instead of our polished, highly artificial lives of the 21st century.

The descriptions of the social lives of wolves are simply stunning! I could have never imagined these animals to have such a rich culture. We really don’t see animals in the light we should – that they’re just like us, but in their own way. It’s magical to look into their world and see both how similar and how different they are from us.

Julie of the Wolves also reveals the magic of nonverbal speech. We humans are so used to expressing ourselves pretty much only verbally that we even think only though speaking – at least surely most of us do. But in Julie of the Wolves, the main character is forced to learn another kind of language – one comprised pretty much only of movements, glances, snarls or positions of ears, or simply how things make you feel when you see them. It’s alien territory for a person of the 21st century, which is why it was a treat to read. It’s always so interesting to learn about other ways of life.

But reader, I must warn you – I cried. Triggers include animal death which I absolutely can’t handle. And yet, the story was still worth it. It left my heart full of feelings and sadness for the ways of life the Western culture has erased.

In Julie of the Wolves, the main character is forced to learn another kind of language to survive – one that wolves speak. Will they admit her to their midst? ★★★★★ 5 stars: Click To Tweet

Fortunately, The Milk… by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell

Fortunately, The Milk... by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell

Check out on Goodreads
★★★★✬ 4.5 stars
How I read this:
through Scribd free trial

This was such a treat! A short book to read with your kids, or just to your own inner child. The illustrations were simply stunning!

If you’ve read anything by Neil Gaiman, you’ll find his typical humor making up the whole story and it’s wonderful I also loved how judging by the illustrations it seems Neil was the dad in the story!

This was a very fun read. Definitely recommended!

(I docked half a star because it depicted some imaginary tribal culture in a silly way, and that culture seemed a lot like Southern American indigenous people. I find that tasteless and dated. These cultures should be approached with respect. Maybe I should have docked the whole star for that… Then again, everything is approached with humor in this book, so maybe a half a star will do.)

Fortunately, the Milk is a short read with wonderful illustrations that will cheer you up for sure – it's a story to read with your kids, or just to your own inner child. ★★★★✬ 4.5 stars: Click To Tweet

Science! The Elements of Dark Energy by Ashley Victoria Robinson

Science! The Elements of Dark Energy by Ashley Victoria Robinson

Check out on Goodreads
★★★✬☆ 3.5 stars
How I read this:
free copy from author

This was a delightful, quick read. I only wish it was a little longer!

Tamsin is a young scientist at a cutting-edge school for teenage scientists. It’s a pretty cool futuristic school, the type you’re used to seeing in cartoons – in fact, the whole graphic novel had a pleasant, cartoonish style which I enjoyed. The kids talk in sciencey ways and it makes reading it fun – truly did remind me of the cartoons I watched in my childhood and my teens, because this is exactly the kind of stuff I enjoyed then. I only wish there were more stories like this back then!

There are a few reasons why I say this – first of all, it’s a very good read for girls – girls are scientists in this story, they’re very empowered and strong and they do all sorts of stuff – prepare to colonize uninhabited planets, run labs, do experiments and are just generally being mad scientists! There’s only one boy in the flock and he’s a secondary character, and there are a few men as teachers – the headmaster and others, but that’s all. The young generation is all girls and that was delightful.

Another reason is because the cast is so diverse! Pretty much every character is of a different heritage, and the two main characters are girls who fall in love. So in this regard, it’s a very refreshing read.

In this story, Tamsin learns that you may not always trust the people closest to you, as sad as it is, and you should always trust your own thinking and your decisions. It was a lovely read and I definitely want to read the next issue! The only drawback for me was that everything seemed to happen a little too quick, and for a graphic novel it felt a bit short – a lot of moments could have been fleshed out a little bit more, things could have been a little less rushed. It would have certainly been good for the novel to have more “bulk” – and I hope this will be the case in the new issues of the story. Other than that, it’s a delightful read that sparks your fantasy and keeps you interested. Definitely give it a go!

An empowering and diverse story about a science school with girls that lead scientific labs (and fall in love with each other!) Learn more about the first edition of this graphic novel – Science! The Elements of Dark Energy: Click To Tweet

I thank the author for giving me a free copy of the ebook in exchange to my honest review. This has not affected my opinion.

The Missing Mortals by Ellen Alexander

The Missing Mortals by Ellen Alexander

Check out on Goodreads
★★★☆☆ 3 stars
How I read this:
free copy through NetGalley

I really loved the first Dinswood book, The Secret of Dinswood – because it was a story of kids in a school that’s in a castle, solving all sorts of pirate related mysteries and looking for treasure! Super exciting.

But it was harder to get into the second book, The Missing Mortals. First of all, because I felt like it didn’t kick in for a very long time – even though the initial mystery was set, somehow things just didn’t get a move on. A lot of the book is dedicated to the internal teen and pre-teen struggles of the characters – there are now themes of jealousy between the two main characters, Emma and Doug, despite them not really having a relationship yet, and there’s also romantic tension between the two other main characters.

That’s all good – however, I feel like it’s a tough age to write – the characters are still to young for a relationship (at least in the author’s eyes), but they’re old enough for the angst. I didn’t enjoy that part of it very much, because what I look for in a middle grade is the lightness – the absence of angst, but I do admit that for a lot of pre-teens this might be an important topic, so it’s probably just me. But it’s not only that – the story itself is quite a bit darker than the first one as well – the kids get threatened and blackmailed and it was just a little too stressful for me, I guess.

Another thing that I didn’t enjoy was something that I felt was mostly absent in the first book – the second book was a lot more “cloyingly Christian” than the first one was. It’s still not as bad as it may be, but “the kids could see it was all by the grace of god” or stuff like that – that’s just not my thing. Long story short, if you’re not Christian, you’ll probably feel alienated and roll your eyes. The first book felt much more accessible to everyone.

Despite all this though, I still hope the series goes on! I would like to know what happens next, although I guess the series will probably be leaving the middle grade setting and move up to young adult (and this could have even been the book that bridges the gap). Either way, I’m interested in seeing where the story goes!

The sequel to The Secret of Dinswood is finally out! Here's the next mystery the kids have cracked: Click To Tweet

I thank the publisher for giving me a free copy of the ebook in exchange to my honest review. This has not affected my opinion.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Check out on Goodreads
★★★☆☆ 3 stars
How I read this:
through Scribd free trial

I was expecting to really enjoy this kidlit classic, but ended up disappointed. The start was a lot of fun! But then the book rolled into the territory of “a little too many moral lessons hidden in all the puns and adventures”, and I don’t know… Sometimes you just want an adventure for what it is – an adventure.

It’s okay if a story teaches you something – that’s how it should be. But it’s best if it teaches you that something as the conclusion – meanwhile, The Phantom Tollbooth seemed to be teaching something along every step of the way. I think the reason for this is that the book was originally published in 1961 and that was the general format of the story back then – and also, I think some of the values might have just got dated since then.

For example, the whole point of the book is to show the child that even though we learn seemingly meaningless stuff at school, and at the time it doesn’t seem like it will be useful – you never know when you’ll need it. And to some extent, that is true – we do need to learn to spell and do math, but then… Isn’t it that pretty much everyone now agrees that the school system is ridiculously flawed and we all need to move in a new direction..? In that light, a story about how you should “learn things and not ask questions about what the hell it is for” just seems less relevant right now. At the moment, we are TRYING to make the kids ask as many questions as possible! So it just doesn’t fit into the whole big picture anymore. And I think that’s why I didn’t like it as much!

Some books age well, some books don't. What do you think of The Phantom Tollbooth in the big picture of today and what we think of the school system? Click To Tweet

So I hope you’ll enjoy these middle grade reads!
Have you read any good middle grade stories lately that you’d share with me?

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ireadthatinabook
Guest

I read Julie of the wolves as a kid and loved it then (and cried obviously). I still have my copy somewhere, perhaps I should reread it.

Tanya
Guest

Fortunately the Milk is one of my favorit middle school reads! Glad to see you enjoyed it 🙂

Sassy Sarah Reads
Guest

Julie of the Wolves sounds like an amazing read! I’ve never read a novel about the Inuit people or culture before, so this would be a really cool novel to read for representation. Great reviews! I do love Gaiman, but I haven’t read any of his middle grade.

Lydia
Guest

I have been meaning to read Fortunately, The Milk forever! I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it. As the world gets crazier I think the escapism of middle grade reading is exactly what I need right now

Laura Thomas
Guest

Thanks for sharing your reviews. I very much enjoy middle grade books and these are all new ones for me.

Olivia Roach
Guest

Great mini reviews! I like the sound of Julie Wolves too, because I do love when we get to see the old ways of living included to. I’m not surprised when Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell came together to work on a book, that the outcome was as wonderful as you found it to be! But it sounds like there were some that were just okay on this list too, and I am sorry that there was a sequel you didn’t enjoy as much as the first book 🙁

Olivia-S @ Olivia’s Catastrophe