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Testing for COVID-19

I wrote an article about testing for COVID-19. It was supposed to be filled with lots of cool science facts but ended up being about masks and swabs. You can read Testing for Covid-19 on SciWhy – a blog dedicated to helping parents, teachers and librarians discover the wide world of Canadian science writing for kids.

photo by cottonbro from Pexels

My thanks to healthcare workers and other essential businesses – especially my local grocery store, Ferraro Foods – who are keeping us safe. It’s not easy to write about, I can’t imagine what it’s like to be on the front lines. Thank-you.

All the Impossible Things

Title: All the Impossible Things39407710._SY475_

Author: Lindsay Lackey

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 978-1-250-20286-4

I have no idea what one *should* read during a pandemic. But I do know this: falling in love with a book can make the weight of the world a tiny bit lighter. 

All the Impossible Things opens with 11-year-old “Red” being taken away from her current foster family. Throughout the book, readers get glimpses into why life with “The Mom” and her three boys was so difficult without getting into any abusive and disturbing detail. We also learn that Red’s been in foster care since her mom went to jail, presumably for drug possession. Red’s bad experience in foster care is balanced by an attentive social worker. And things really start to look up for Red when she’s taken to live with Celine and Jackson, owners of the Groovy Petting Zoo – a place where Red might actually “be a fit”.   

That’s not to say things are easy. Without giving too much away, Red must navigate all kinds of difficult situations that force her to control her wind. The magic behind Red and her mom’s ability to control the wind is not really explained but serves as a good way of showing Red’s emotion. It also creates a plot point when Tuk, a 400 pound tortoise, goes missing after a destructive stormed caused by Red’s anger over letters to her mom being returned unopened. 

The relationships in this story are beautifully rendered, particularly between Red and her grandmother. Although Gamma dies of cancer before the story even begins, she leaves Red with a book of impossible things which helps Red bond with Celine and come to realize the hard truth about her mom’s addiction to pills and inability to parent. The book is sad but it’s not all sad – there are many heart warming moments and both the farm animals and Red’s friend, Marvin (maker of cooking videos for his channel, Kitchen Kahuna, and creator of the “spineo” ), provide some much needed levity.   

One of my sons loved this book and the other was turned off by the cover. To get a better idea of how the target audience might respond, I recommend this review on NPStation. Not only do I love her enthusiasm for All the Impossible Things, there are a lot of other great videos to check out on her channel. Plus, for those of us currently homeschooling, I think creating a video book review is a great project for kids of all ages!

Personal Update

I’m writing with a personal update at a difficult time for all of us. I haven’t been posting on social media because it doesn’t seem like there’s anything left to say. Plus, my feelings about everything have been fluctuating wildly; hour to hour, day to day.

I do feel a need to reach out, however. So this is a collection of random thoughts – mainly links to articles that have impacted me. Even if this post reaches very few people at a time of information overload, I hope there’s something of value to someone (perhaps just me).

First, I’m very grateful for the action that’s being taken to flatten the curve. There are so many examples of people who are rising to the challenge, making sacrifices and thinking beyond themselves. It is truly amazing how much can change overnight when we work collectively for the greater good. But….

I’m also disheartened by stories of people who are not taking the pandemic seriously. Leaders who are focused on economics when people are dying. Individuals who think social distancing rules do not apply to them.

Those who “follow me” (virtually or in person) know that my mom had a stem cell transplant and is still immune compromised. Because of that, My Mom’s Journey with COVID-19. Please Stay Home. hit me particularly hard. I admit to skimming ahead to make sure she survived (and because I couldn’t read through my tears). Still – I will read it again and again when I need a reminder (for myself or someone else) of why our action (or lack of action) matters.

I acknowledge that I’m privileged and in a better position than most to deal with this crisis. I already work from home and my sons are old enough to entertain themselves (for a little while, anyway).  Still, I’m used to my routine and my boys are social creatures. It’s going to be hard to keep them busy while maintaining peace of mind. There are lots of resources being made available, many of them listed in How Kids’ Lit Is Responding to the Coronavirus.

While I think all these resources are great, I do worry about the pressure it puts on parents at a time when we should be trying to take the pressure off. I agree with what Brooke from Slow Your Home said in her newsletter about the “added pressure of ‘making the crisis count’. We’re being told this is an exceptional opportunity to do all the things we never have time to otherwise do. Finish that novel! Learn an instrument! Get super fit! Declutter your house! Organise your garage! Knit a huge beautiful blanket! Plant a garden! Read all the Harry Potters out loud to your kids (and don’t forget to do the voices)!

It occurs to me that we’ve gone full capitalist in our efforts to recalibrate. We’ve started with the mindset of maximising our output, needing to prove our value, to stay busy, to list our achievements and improve our status. To prove that we are worthy.”

Brooke’s point is so important. This is not the time for perfection. Now Is the Perfect Time to Lower the Parenting Bar as Kimberly writes in her article for The Cut.

Now I will admit to not following all of that advice. Feeling a need to be productive (and stop myself from becoming a news zombie) I’ve updated my website (still a work-in-progress). In preparation for the release of CRISPR: A Powerful Way to Change DNA (Annick, 2020), I needed a fresh look. Plus, I needed to make room for new information while getting rid of the old. One thing I had to say good-bye to is Authors for Earth Day (thank you to my eco-book of the month partner for this great article). After ten great years, it is coming to an end.

Which brings me to my last point. Many Earth Day activities will be cancelled this year. When the pandemic is over, I wonder whether we’ll be open to changing the way we live and move in this world for the benefit of the environment. Or whether we’ll be scrambling to restore economic health and go back to “the way things were” to the point where all progress that’s been made toward conquering climate change will be lost.

Only time will tell. Until then, please stay healthy and stay home. xo yolanda

Broken Strings

Title: Broken Strings

Author: Eric Walters & Kathy Kacer

Publisher: Puffing Canada

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 978-0-7352-6624-7

In my last post of the decade (!) I want to do a quick shout out to a great 2019 title by two Canadian kid-lit super powers. Broken Strings is a Holocaust lesson wrapped up in a story about a middle school production of Fiddler on the Roof. That’s not a bad thing.

When 8th grader Shirli is cast as the Old Jewish Grandmother in her junior high school’s production of Fiddler on the Roof, she goes to her Zayde for background information and advice. While searching Zayde’s attic for costumes, she uncovers information about his musical past. As she digs deeper, secrets are revealed along with the story of what happened to her family during the holocaust.

Perhaps now more than ever, it’s important to keep memories of past generations alive. Broken Strings is set in 2002, just after 9/11, a tragedy that must also be remembered. I hope this book encourages young people to talk to their grandparents and listen to their stories.

Wishing you time with friends, family and other important people in your life during this holiday season. Thank you for visiting my website and encouraging me in my writing career. See you in 2020!

 

Under Pressure

Title: Under Pressure:The Science of Stress

Author: Tanya Lloyd Kyi

Publisher: Kids Can Press

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 978-1-5253-0007-3

I usually limit my reviews to middle grade fiction. But I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction lately, partly in preparation for the release of my non-fiction title on gene editing next year. Under Pressure caught my eye for several reasons: I’m a fan of Tanya Lloyd Kyi, it’s published by Kids Can Press, and most importantly…. who doesn’t need to know more about stress?

Under Pressure covers all different types of stress, including things you may not even consider stress like “Helpful Highs”. Each chapter ends with a section on “Stress Busters” and the final chapter is totally devoted to “Tension Tamers”.

A lot of material is covered here, including the biological and genetic basis of stress. Canadian-based studies of stress are also featured. It may not be a book that can be read cover to cover by the average 12-year-old but there’s stuff in here for everyone – from the zen to the totally stressed. Under Pressure is the kind of non-fiction I would like to write. It’s also a book both me and my kids will go back to again and again.

Focused

Title: Focused

Author: Alyson Gerber

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 978-1338185973

Clea really tries to do well in middle school and meet her parent’s expectations by being organized and on time. Trouble is, she’s constantly distracted. Pretty much the only thing she’s able to focus on is chess. But her position on the chess team becomes threatened by bad grades, the insecure (but popular) girl on the team, and her pending diagnosis of ADHD.

Before she can get the medication she needs, she blurts out some personal information about her best friend, Red, who’s tired of Clea’s lack of inhibition. Through it all, she’s supported by her family and a new friend, Sanam. Along with medical and educational professionals, her supportive group of friends and family help Clea to start advocating for herself and asking for the help she needs.

Someone I’m very close to has ADHD. But until I read Focused, I didn’t have a clear idea on how it affected that person internally. I’m very grateful to Alsyon Gerber for sharing her personal insight into the condition through the fictional story of Clea. While everyone’s experience with ADHD is different, Clea’s struck me as authentic and relatable.

I can not recommend this book highly enough. Focused should be in every middle grade classroom – and not just for the students, but teachers and parents too.

My Life as a Diamond

Title: My Life as a Diamond

Author: Jenny Manzer

Publisher: Orca Book Publishers

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 9781459818316

The start of My Life as a Diamond provides a brief glimpse into ten-year-old Caspar Cadman’s life “before” in a scene where he (still going by the name “Cassie”) decides to cut his hair. The story really starts with the family’s move to a suburb of Seattle, however, after Caspar (now “Caz”) is rejected by his baseball team in Toronto. In his new hometown, he joins a summer baseball team and enjoys the freedom of being himself without anyone knowing “his secret” (which – spoiler alert- eventually catches up with him).

This is another 2018 baseball title I discovered on holidays. Compared to Mascot, there’s a lot more focus on the actual game. The scenes on the diamond are fast paced with just the right amount of baseball lingo and detail. Not all the characters on Caz’s team are well defined, something I find tricky to do when writing sports stories where the main character is part of a big team. I also would’ve liked a bit of insight as to why the bully on the opposing team is so mean (and I didn’t care for the characterization of the vegetarian).

Based on information in the back matter, where there’s a list of transgender resources, the author did a lot of research to create Caz. Since we’re both cis gendered, I have trouble knowing whether the representation of his transition is accurate. I’ve read a few reviews that suggest there are some problems with the “born-in-the-wrong-body” narrative.

Overall, My Life as a Diamond gave me a good insight into what it might be like to fill Caz’s cleats. Baseball fans will enjoy this book, which is an important addition to the increasingly diverse collection of middle grade books.

 

Mascot

Title: Mascot

Author: Anthony John

Publisher: Harper Collins

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 9780062835628

I’m a little late reviewing (and reading) this 2018 title. Not sure how I missed it, especially since I’ve been focused on recently published middle grade books about baseball. Thank goodness for holiday libraries!

Mascot introduces readers to Noah Savino five months after a car accident that killed his father and put him in a wheelchair. A former little league catcher, the spinal cord injury doesn’t just change Noah physically. It changes his relationship with his peers and his mother and leaves him with a bitter outlook on life.

The book isn’t really about baseball. Noah talks about being a catcher, particularly in reference to his nemesis, who Noah and his friends challenge to a pitching/hitting competition. The St Louis Cardinals also play a role, mainly in Noah’s memories of his father and the mystery of whether his mom’s new friend is actually the team’s mascot. But overall, Mascot is really about Noah mourning the loss of his father and adapting to his new life.

The characterization’s a bit over the top, especially the two VERY mature 9-year-olds. I also found the dialogue between Noah and his friends (and the bully) unrealistic for 12-year-olds. It reminded me of the Gilmore Girls – the banter between them was too clever to be real but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the show. And these little things won’t stop middle graders from loving this book.

Merci Suárez Changes Gears

Title: Merci Suárez Changes Gears

Author: Meg Medina

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 9780763690496

Not only is this book a Newbery Award winner, the author is represented by my dream agent. To say I had high expectations would be an understatement. It took me a few chapters to get into it but once I did – I was hooked.

In her front cover book blurb, Robin Yardi calls Meg Medina “the Judy Blume for a new generation”. I totally agree. Merci Suárez Changes Gears is a wonderful coming of age novel. It’s not really about anything – which is probably why I had trouble getting into at first – but it’s also about everything in the life of Merci Suarez, a truly engaging character.

Everything is changing for Merci Suárez. Now in sixth grade, friendships are shifting and so are expectations – which are especially high for Merci who helps earns her way into private school by doing “community service”. At home, her Lolo’s acting very strange. Merci lives with her extended family in three connected houses called La Casitas, but she’s particularly close to her grandfather who bikes with her every Sunday morning and pays her to help with her dad’s painting company.

Merci Suárez Changes Gears reminds me of the books I loved growing up. It’s the type of book I want to write. The fact that it’s done so well – not just on the award circuit but on the New York Times Bestseller list as well –  gives me hope that contemporary books without a strong hook or fast-paced plot still have a place in the market. Oh – and the 13-year-old boys in my house liked it too.

Nikki on the Line

Title: Nikki on the line

Author: Barbara Carroll Roberts

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 978-0316521901

If you liked Inside Hudson Pickle, you’re going to like Nikki on the Line. And for those of you who wished Hudson was more about basketball and less about genetics (I’ve heard from a few of you and believe me, I’m listening), you’re going to totally love it!

Thirteen-year-old Nikki loves basketball – until she makes the elite travel team. To help her single mom pay the fees, she offers to babysit her energetic little brother every day after school. In addition to practice and games, this takes up a lot of her time. So much that her grades start to slip and her relationship with her best friend (who’s also on the team) becomes strained.

To make matters worse, Nikki’s no longer the star of the team (but still the shortest) and her lack of confidence really hurts her play. But when she listens to her coach’s advice to “not let what you can’t do stop you from doing what you can do” and learns to shoot a 3-pointer, everything changes.

Nikki’s family history is complicated and there’s a great subplot involving a class genetics project. The characters are wonderfully nuanced, especially Booker, who also has a non-traditional family and helps Nikki with her 3-pointers. The one character who didn’t seem authentic was Nikki’s mom – I don’t understand why she spent so much time reading and ignoring her kids when she worked so hard to have them. Otherwise, it’s a well paced, great read. The only downside? Nikki on the Line will have basketball fans wishing the summer was over so they could get out on the court!