Yolanda Ridge

Middle Grade Author

The Pants Project

Title: The Pants Project

Author: Cat Clarke

Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

I love the premise of this book: 11-year-old Liv likes the uniform at her new middle school (especially the tie) but hates wearing the skirt. Right from the start, it’s impossible not to see the dress code is sexist and archaic. But when we learn that it is especially difficult for Liv to wear a skirt because she’s really a boy, readers are even more more inclined to cheer for Liv as he challenges the rules.

Liv makes three attempts to change the dress code. First, by wearing pants under the skirt. Second, by talking to the principal (who’s response is totally unrealistic and unhelpful). And then, by starting a petition. It’s the fourth plan that actually succeeds but I won’t spoil the surprise.

Complicating things for Liv is the school bully, Jade, who makes fun of his two moms, and his best friend choosing to hang out with the popular kids (including Jade) instead of Liv. We never really understand why Jade is so mean to everyone but it’s great that Liv tries to protect others and eventually stands up to Jade. Along the way, Liv gets a lot of support from Jacob who makes a bad first impression (asking “what kind of name is Liv?” and “isn’t it a bit too butch for you?”) before becoming Liv’s best friend. Jacob is at times too good to be true (making a lot of very mature statements and observations) and also has secrets of his own.

The main theme of this book is being yourself. Liv first tells Jacob that he’s trans and then his moms but the conversations remain on the surface. Even though Liv is older than George, there’s no urgency around puberty – yet. For now, Liv’s just happy wearing pants. “Before you know it, lots of small steps can cover a lot of ground.”

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Big Sur Writing Workshop

With help from an Access Copyright Foundation Professional Development Grant, I travelled all the way to Big Sur, California this weekend to attend a writing workshop hosted by the Andrea Brown Literary Agency and the Henry Miller Library. It was an illuminating and inspiring experience that was at times overwhelming (and exhausting).

Photo compliments of TripAdvisor (I travelled too light to bring a camera)

On the craft side, I brought two contemporary middle grade manuscripts – one that’s been through many rounds of revision (but still not totally working) and one that’s brand new (so new that the first draft isn’t completely written). I got great feedback from my critique groups. Not only did I come away with strategies for moving both stories forward, I also know where to focus my energy next. (Spoiler alert: stay tuned for more information about PLUS ONE GIRL).

Beyond these two manuscripts, I met many talented writers and made lots of new friends. The faculty (top-notch agents, editors and professional writers) were all extremely knowledgable and graciously made themselves accessible to all attendees. My only regret is that I didn’t have time to fully explore the beautiful surroundings. But one thing is for certain – I will be back!!

Photo credit: John Henry (partner of a fellow attendee)


More TripAdvisor (but I did drive over this bridge and it really is that spectacular!)


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Title: George

Author: Alex Gino

Publisher: Scholastic

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 978-0-545-81254-2

To be honest, George is not the most well written middle grade book I’ve ever read. But the topic is very important and the story is engaging so I recommend it – especially for teachers and librarians. It’s a quick read that would be great for a classroom read aloud followed by a group discussion about gender identity.

Fourth grader George has always felt like a girl. The book doesn’t go into much detail about this but the author shows her conviction through use of the pronoun “she” and “her”.  George keeps fashion magazines hidden in her room and considers the girls on the pages her friends.  She’s researched transgender online but never shared her secret with real friends or family. When she wants to play Charlotte in the class play of Charlotte’s Web instead of Wilber, her true identity is finally revealed.

I didn’t think that the students in this book behaved like normal 4th graders. But I loved George’s best friend, Kelly, and her reaction to George being a girl. Not only does Kelly quickly accept George as Melissa, she shares her role as Charlotte and helps Melissa dress up for a trip to the zoo.

I have no idea what it is like to be transgendered but I felt like there was a stereotypical message here about what it’s like to be a “good girl” (interested in clothes and make up) and a “good boy” (interested in tough stuff like violent video games). Also, things seemed to happened a bit too easily for George/Melissa. Her mom and brother are both accepting, although not quite as enthusiastic as Kelly. There is really only one bully at school that teases her and one teacher that doesn’t want her to play Charlotte.

I have mixed feelings about this. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s very realistic. But I also think it’s important for middle grade stories to provide a positive message. George serves as a model for how people should react to a transgendered family member, friend or classmate. And I hope that transgendered youth who read this book will be encouraged to be themselves – regardless of the consequences.

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Title: Ghost

Author: Jason Reynolds

Publisher:Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 978-1-4814-5015-7

Well, I knew this book would be good – it was a National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature, after all –  but I didn’t expect it to be as good as it is. Suitable for grades five and up, Ghost is about 7th grader Castle Cranshaw (who nicknamed himself Ghost after the way he looked the night his dad chased him and his mom out of the house with a gun). No doubt, Ghost has a tough life and makes some bad choices but Jason Reynolds handles the issues with the perfect amount of sensitivity and empathy for a middle grade audience.

Over a one week period, Ghost discovers his natural talent for running, joins a track team and befriends the coach. The book then skips ahead a few weeks to show how Ghost has bonded with his teammates and must pay the consequence of shoplifting. The story ends with him competing in this first race.

It might sound like a sports story cliche but Reynolds takes it to the next level with an amazing cast of characters. Ghost is flawed but extremely likeable and easy to cheer for (even when stealing and beating up the school bully). He has a good relationship with his hard-working mom and Mr. Charles who owns the store where Ghost buys his sunflower seeds. Coach is the typical ‘I see potential in you’ father figure that Ghost needs but has his own unique backstory as well. And the other newbies on the team – Lu who has albinism, Sunny who lost his mom, and Patty who’s adopted – are all interesting enough to warrant their own stories, which is what I’m going to read next (along with everything else that Jason Reynolds has ever written).

Highly recommended – especially for fans of sports novels.

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SCBWI Book Stop

If you are looking for a good book for yourself or a young person in your life, check out this great list at the SCBWI Book Stop. The page I created for Inside Hudson Pickle is here, if you want to take a look. Happy Reading!!


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House Arrest

Title: House Arrest

Author: K.A. Holt

Publisher: Chronicle Books

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 978-1452156484

This middle grade novel in verse is about a seventh grader who’s been put under house arrest after stealing a wallet to help pay for his brother’s care. This is just the beginning of how Timothy shows his love for his 9-month-old brother, Levi, who was born with serious health issues that require expensive medication, a trach tube to help him breathe, and full-time nursing care.

To avoid juvie, Timothy must check in with his probation officer and meet with a therapist who both read the journal he’s been assigned to write by the judge. Through Timothy’s entries, which are divided by seasons, we see the family’s financial challenges, the worsening of Levi’s condition, and how Timothy’s Dad leaving has affected them all.

It might sound heavy but the author provides moments of humour and supporting characters that give hope and support. Timothy’s unwavering love for his brother, and fierce need to protect him, lead him to make some though choices – some good and some bad – and leave the reader to decide whether the means justify the ends (in this case breaking the law to save a life).

I’m a bit late in reviewing House Arrest, which was published in 2015. But I’m hoping for a follow up book told from the perspective of Levi when he reaches 12-years-old. It’s not that Timothy and Levi’s story is incomplete. It’s just that I loved this novel so much that I want more. K.A. Holt if you’re reading – pretty, pretty please!?!


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I’m still flying high from the success of Inside Hudson Pickle‘s book launch and want to share a summary of the event from the Rossland News
This will be my last post about Hudson before going into hibernation with my current work-in-progress. Thank-you so much for all your support. One last request: if you (or the children in your life) liked Hudson’s story, please consider leaving a review on Goodreads and/or Chapters and/or Amazon… wherever you buy books. You don’t have to say much (or anything at all) but leaving a few stars will really help others find the book. Thank-you!!

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Hudson’s Book Launch!!

I am so grateful to everyone who came out to celebrate the launch of Inside Hudson Pickle. There was a basketball shooting competition, real firefighting gear to try on, dill pickle chips to enjoy, a short reading from the book and… cake!! Thanks for your support, Rossland!

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Let’s Party!

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Cynsations Guest Post

In this guest post for Cynsations, one of my favourite blogs for writers, readers, teachers, librarians, and lovers of children’s books,  I talk about the process of creating Inside Hudson Pickle and the challenges of writing from the perspective of a 12-year-old boy. If you get a chance to read it, please leave a comment to let me know what you think!

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