Yolanda Ridge

Middle Grade Author

Prince George!

3 days,

7 schools,

1 epic Battle of the Books

….a quick recap of the time I spent in Prince George last week!

Now, the longer version:

The Battle of the Books was an amazing event. My compliments to the hard-working committee of teacher-librarians that organized it. What a great way to both encourage and honour reading! You can find out more about the battle in this front page article from the Prince George Citizen. The Prince George school district has been doing an event with the Red Cedar Nominated books for the past 20 years. Other school districts should check it out!

Between school visits, I had a chance to explore Prince George and connect with friends. I’ve never been this far north in BC and I hope to come back. The people are so friendly and welcoming and the city certainly has a lot of great amenities and outdoor activities to explore!

Thank-you to everyone who made my visit possible and for all the students for being such enthusiastic participants!

 

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Everlasting Nora

Title: Everlasting Nora

 

Author: Marie Miranda Cruz

Publisher: Starscape

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 9780765394590

12-year-old Nora and her mom live in a grave house in Manila’s largest cemetery. That’s right – a grave house. They sleep and eat next to the tomb of her father, who died in a house fire.

They are poor but they survive by doing laundry and selling Nora’s dried flower wreaths. That is until Nora’s mom goes missing – a victim of debt associated with her gambling addiction.

It sounds depressing. And it is. But Nora’s determination and resourcefulness  keep them both alive – and keep readers of Everlasting Nora turning the pages of the book to find out what happens.

Although the story contains many heart-thumping, action scenes, Cruz does not skip on the details necessary to bring the setting to life. I learned a lot about Filipino culture, especially the food (I can’t wait to try banana-que).

Life is unrelentingly hard for Nora. But her courage fills the story with promise and hope. Everlasting Nora is a heart-filled glimpse into a piece of the Philippines, filled with characters that are easy to root for (especially Jojo). I hope Nora makes it back to school!

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Fadeaway

Title: Fadeaway

Author: Maura Ellen Stokes

Publisher: Yellow Jacket

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 9781499806748

Since this review is not really a review at all but more of a personal reflection, I’m going to start with a quick description so I can get into listing the things I love about Fadeaway.

Publisher’s blurb:

When Sam’s best friend Reagan dies after her heart suddenly gives out, Sam must learn to deal with her grief and ultimately discover who she is without her best friend by her side.

What I love about it:

1 – The main character is 14-years-old

Fourteen was a very formative age for me: my family moved cities, I experienced by first true heartbreak, resisted peer pressure and remained vegetarian (pressure that came less from peers and more from family and cattle country in general), and discovered a passion for sport that would get me through several more life-altering changes. I don’t really remember being twelve and by sixteen, I had already figured a lot of stuff out. This is why I find it frustrating that authors are generally told not to write 14-year-old characters because they’re too old for middle grade and too young for young adult. (Maggie Tokuda-Hall wrote a great post this week about the subcategories of MG and YA). Readers need characters of all ages, including fourteen. And Sam’s a great one.

2 – Sam’s grief is shown in a raw but totally realistic way

My dad died when my twin sons were 2-years-old. It was a very difficult time for me and my grieving process was very complicated. I love that Sam’s grief is not shown as a linear progression where each day is better than the day before. There are days that Sam misses Reagan so much she can’t get out of bed. There are moments that she laughs out loud at a memory of Reagan. More often than not, these moments are followed by a wave of sadness. I love the coping mechanisms she develops as she figures out how to be Sam instead of Reagan&Sam. I have not lost a best friend but I’ve left many friends behind when I’ve moved between cities. Every time, it felt like I was reinventing myself as I learned to navigate a different world without the support network I’d come to rely on.

3 – The story is sad and sweet and even a bit slow – without being boring

For so many reasons, our society is becoming more and more about instant gratification. I see this everywhere, including in the books we give to children. I worry about how this will affect my own kids. I worry about how it has affected me. So I appreciated being reminded that books do not have to be action packed. Or set in a fantastic fantasy world. Or heavily illustrated. Or a mash up between one best seller and another. I refuse to call Fadeaway quiet but I love that it takes time to unravel. And I love that there are some good basketball scenes along the way.

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Girls Empowered Together

Today I did a writing workshop at the Trail District Public Library. The Girls Empowered Together group came up with some truly inspired ideas. Thanks for sharing your time with me, GET!

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Inkling

Title: Inkling

Author: Kenneth Oppel

Illustrator: Sydney Smith

Publisher: HarperCollins

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 9781443450287

I’ve seen this middle grade novel on a lot of book lists (Quill & Quire Best Book, CYBILS Awards, CBC Best Book of the Year, New York Times Notable…) but the premise of an ink blot coming to life didn’t really appeal to me. Then my kids picked it up at the library and started raving about it too. So I cracked the cover and at the risk of sounding cliché – couldn’t put it down.

Inkling comes to life out of Ethan’s dad’s sketch book but Ethan finds him first (unless you count the confrontation with the cat that opens the story). Soon Inkling’s helping Ethan with a graphic novel project for school. He becomes the dog Ethan’s sister (who has  Down syndrome) always wanted and eventually starts working for Ethan’s dad (who’s a comic artist).

As Inkling becomes a member of the family, Ethan reconsiders everything from the definition of cheating to the real reason his dad’s stuck. But the moral dilemma at the heart of the story is Inkling’s well being. Ethan’s dad thinks Ethan gives Inkling too many human qualities. Ethan’s horrified when other characters in the story treat Inkling like a caged animal. What’s the difference between letting Inkling help and taking advantage of him?

When Inkling goes missing, I felt as horrified as Ethan and his family. That’s when I saw the true brilliance of this character. Inkling starts out as an extension of Ethan’s dad’s imagination but learns from the diverse books Ethan feeds him, changes from experience and grows through his relationship with others. All the characters in this story are strong – and all develop in their own way – but Inkling’s the star.

I got distracted by a few typos and didn’t pay much attention to the black and white illustrations. But the cover art is brilliant and as a package this book definitely checks boxes for publishers wanting middle grade novels with more artwork and magic realism. For me, though, it was all about the heart of the story and the quick paced action that brings Inkling and his family to a tear-worthy conclusion.

 

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No Fixed Address

Title: No Fixed Address

Author: Susin Nielsen

Publisher: Tundra Books

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 978-0735262751

This is the second book by Susan Nielsen that I’ve reviewed on this site. I usually like to share the love but her latest title is too good to be overlooked. Unlike We Are All Made Of Molecules, this book does not cross the line into young adult content – it’s definitely upper middle grade.

Twelve-year-old Felix and his mom (who he calls Astrid) live in Vancouver. For many reasons – some associated with Astrid’s unnamed mental illness (she has “slumps” and takes medication) and some associated with her poor decision making (particularly with respect to relationships) – they lose their home and end up living in a van that may or may not have been stolen.

At first, life in the Westfalia is fine. But as Felix settles into school and the temperature starts to drop, he becomes desperate for access to things most of us take for granted: a private toilet, regular access to a shower, an address, a meal that does not come from a can, and perhaps most of all – a sense of security.

Since Astrid seems incapable of finding (and keeping) a job, Felix searches for other ways to get the money they need for an apartment including asking for a loan from his “DNA Donor Dad” and winning a trivia game show. The one thing he refuses to do is ask for help. Or let his new friends know that he’s homeless.

The relationship between Felix and Astrid is complicated and realistic. As is the resolution to their story. The back matter includes resources and a discussion guide that both provide further information on hidden homelessness and poverty. While there are many important issues addressed in the novel- and a diverse cast of interesting characters – there’s also enough plot twists to keep young readers turning the page.

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Book Deal!

Here’s the good news I teased you with in my previous post…

I just signed a nonfiction book deal with Annick Press for a book on gene editing aimed at students in grades 9-12!!

Maybe you’ve never heard of CRISPR. Or more likely – since it’s regularly in the news – you’ve heard of it but never quite understood what it is (unless you’re one of my many genetic counseling friends, of course). Either way, this book is for you too, regardless of your age. I have no doubt gene editing will be a big part of our future and it’s up to us to decide how it’s used.

It was fun writing the proposal and it’s been super interesting to continue researching this important topic and drafting the book. But since the deadlines are tight, you might not hear much from me on social media until sometime this spring… until then, happy hibernating (I hope you have a good book… or two)!!

 

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Grade 4 is where it’s at!

 

I had so much fun talking to the fourth graders at Rossland Summit School about the Magic of Three.

Even though I totally believe in the Magic of Three, I’m totally inspired by the Creativity of Four (or the kids in grade four, anyway).

Thanks for hosting me and good luck with your writing!

 

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2019 – here I come!

I haven’t posted on my website for a while because to be honest, 2018 was a difficult year for me. During the past few months, I just haven’t been up to projecting the image of a content and productive writer. Because I didn’t feel like one.

Without going into detail, the main thing that sent me off the rails was my mom’s health. Don’t get me wrong here, what I went through was nothing compared to what my mom and her husband endured. But my mom is my rock. She’s ALWAYS been the one I turn to for support, especially since losing my dad and both my in-laws. It was very hard to have her turn to me for support and even more difficult to watch her go through treatment.

Treatment that turned my strong, nurturing mom into someone who could not look after herself.

Treatment that saved her life.

I’m happy to say that she is on the road to recovery. She fought hard and was, as ALWAYS, a role model for how to cope when life sends you in a direction you didn’t plan – or want – to take.

While I was away from my husband and kids caring for my mom, I continued to write. But when I got home I found myself staring at a blank page. Or worse, making a mess of my work-in-progress.

Even though I knew she was receiving good care from my sister and step-dad, being away from my mom when she was still receiving treatment was way harder than being there to help. And I just couldn’t concentrate. The only time my brain seemed to work well was at three o-clock in the morning.

At the same time, I was getting schooled on how much the market for children’s literature is changing. I’m still processing some of this but I will say that I understand why it needs to evolve. And I accept that this may be a time when other people’s voices need to be louder than my own.

From this, I took a lesson from my mom. My writing path was not going in the direction I’d hoped so I chose to follow another sign post. This one from a friend who suggested I try writing nonfiction for kids, using my background in genetic counselling as an anchor.

So I’m updating my website at the start of 2019 to project my true image of a struggling but determined writer. I know I’m not alone in assuming that everyone’s life is flowing like lava because it’s the good stuff that gets posted and shared. I will have good news about a book deal in the next few weeks. But until then, this is me starting 2019 on a new and open road. I hope to see you along the way!

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The Dollar Kids

Title: The Dollar Kids

Author: Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 9780763694746

Full disclosure: I’m a huge fan of Jennifer Richard Jacobson both as a writer and a person. She was my mentor at the Highlights Whole Novel Workshop and I have so much respect for her knowledge and talent. I have previously reviewed Paper Things but I’ve read everything she’s written and I love it all. I had no doubt The Dollar Kids would take me on the same emotional journey I’ve come to expect from her middle grade titles.

I was not wrong.

The Dollar Kids opens with the tragic death of 12-year-old Lowen Grover’s neighbour and younger friend, Abe. The responsibility Lowen feels for Abe’s death drives the rest of the narrative from the Grover’s family decision to buy a dollar house in a small, rundown old mill town to Lowen’s interactions with the new people he meets in Millville. Lowen’s guilt drips off the pages, making it hard for him to live next to a funeral home, make new friends, and continue to draw comics – formerly his most favourite past time.

What I love most about this book is the nuanced characters. Jennifer Richard Jacobson does a great job of showing how the entire Grover family reacts and adjusts to Abe’s death. She also examines the concept of dollar houses as a way of revitalizing dying towns. At the climax, a town divided has become a community and Millville is saved through sheer determination and co-operation. I especially love what Mr. Avery – a former Mill worker and one of the most verbally opposed to the dollar houses – learns from his grandson:

“At one time or another, everyone needs help – and everyone, at one time or another, can find a way to be helpful.”

Highly recommended.

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