Yolanda Ridge

Middle Grade Author


Title: Checked

Author: Cynthia Kadohata

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 9781481446617

If you love hockey and dogs, you’ll love this book. I like both – but not enough to overlook Checked‘s lack of both plot and character arc.

11-year-old Conor (and his dad, who shares Conor’s dream of playing in the NHL) spend all their time and money on hockey. When his dog, Sinbad, is diagnosed with cancer, Conor must sacrifice his extra summer training to pay for chemotherapy. Woven into this framework, Conor explores prayer, his relationship with his late mother’s parents, his ethnicity, his father’s career as a cop, his elderly neighbour’s need for support, and more.

Even though my son does not play AAA hockey and my dog has never had cancer, I have no doubt that Kadohata got all the details of both these experiences completely right. And there are a lot of details. Despite the fast pace of some hockey scenes, the book itself is long and meandering. Conor’s hockey journey and Sinbad’s cancer treatments do not follow any real arc and nothing is really resolved at the end of the story, besides Conor deciding to meet with his maternal grandparents at thanksgiving. The relationship between characters, particularly Conor and his dad, and the depth of the characterization is very well done but no one changes that much during the book. We don’t get an explanation for why Conor’s dad’s crying all the time and Conor’s precocious insights into life are a constant throughout the book.

That said, the cover is fantastic as are the chapter heading illustrations by Maurizio Zorat, which help move the story along. I did finish the book and Conor’s story stayed with me after the last page. I liked that all the plot points weren’t tied up with a bow at the end. Animal lovers will be relieved that Sinbad does okay with his cancer treatments. And hockey players will relate to a book that so accurately portrays their love and passion for the sport.

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Ebb & Flow

Title: Ebb & Flow

Author: Heather Smith

Publisher: Kids Can Press

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 978-1-77138-838-2

A middle grade novel in verse? Yes, please. One written by a Canadian Author (publisher by my favourite Canadian publisher)? Yes, please (with a cherry on top)! Ebb & Flow packs a hard emotional punch – breaking your heart and putting it back together from one page to the next.

After a terrible year at a new school, 11-year-old Jett goes to Newfoundland to spend the summer with his grandma. While the relationship with his cotton candy grandma grows, the details of the terrible year is slowly revealed along with backstory about his friend Junior, Junior’s uncle (Alf) and Jett’s dad.

Because the story is told in verse with no dialogue tags and skips back and forth in time, I occasionally found it hard to follow who was who (especially the inanimate objects Jett names). But that didn’t stop me from connecting to the characters. Jett’s internal conflict is very realistic and relatable and his connections with Grandma, Alf and Nelly are especially endearing.

This is a quick read but it’s not easy. It tackles subjects like child abuse, domestic violence, and bullying. The author doesn’t sugar coating things but she does leave room for growth and hope.  Highly recommended.

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Chocolate Lily Award Nomination

I’m excited to share that Inside Hudson Pickle is on the short list for the 2019 17th Annual Chocolate Lily Award in the Novel Category (grade 4-7)! BC schools and libraries interested in particpating in this reader’s choice award should check out the How to Participate page and join in the voting.

Last week was a good one for Hudson. His story also appeared in the Spring 2018 edition of Best Books for Kids & Teens, published by The Canadian Children’s Book Centre. Thanks for the support, everyone!!


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See You in the Cosmos

Title: See You in the Cosmos

Author: Jack Cheng

Publisher: Dial Books

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 9780399186370

Astronomy-obsessed Alex is making recordings on his golden iPod with the plan of rocketing it into space like his hero Carl Sagan did with the golden record. He travels to the Southwest High-Altitude Rocket Festival – alone (apart from his dog, Carl Sagan) – in order to launch the rocket he’s built. Two of the adult friends he makes at the festival take him to Los Vegas to search for his dad. Although Alex believes his dad to be dead, his name and address have recently appeared in ancestry.com.

The road trip continues from there but I can’t tell you much more without spoiling the story. But I will tell you that I have many mixed feelings about this book!

On one hand, I find it ridiculous that 11-year-old Alex would be wandering around the country on his own, meeting adults that don’t seem overly concerned about his lack of supervision. I also found the narrative clunky at times because it’s told in the form of Alex’s recordings where he basically provides a stream of consciousness about what’s going on day to day. The recordings occasionally pick up conversation but they are mostly lines and lines of description.

On the other hand, I could not put the book down, particularly during the second half. I needed to know what the deal was with Alex’s mom and how everything would come together. The pace is fast and despite Alex’s inconsistencies (he describes himself as 13 in responsibility years but he rambles and takes things literally like someone much younger) he is an endearing main character.

One of my sons really liked this book and one of my sons did not. Ironically, it was my own astronomy-obsessed kid that wasn’t so keen. See You in the Cosmos would be a great read aloud for the classroom where you can discuss the issues that arise such as mental illness and messy relationships (and why it’s dangerous for kids to have that much freedom).

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Title: Runner: Harry Jerome, World’s Fastest Man

Author: Norma Charles

Publisher: Red Deer Press

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 9780889955530

When I was younger, I always wanted to know more about the person my school was named after (which required a lot of research since I went to a lot of schools). How did someone get a building or a street or an event named after them, anyway? At some point, I stopped wondering. Possibly because the stories behind them never seemed that interesting or inspiring. Enter Harry Jerome, who has a sports complex, a recreation centre and even an international track event named after him. Harry’s life is not only interesting and inspiring, his story is told in an engaging way in Norma Charles’ new book for middle grade readers.

Written as a novel but informed by extensive research, the author’s brief acquaintance with Harry, and interviews with his sister, coach and friend, Runner begins with a flood in Harry’s home of St. Boniface, Manitoba in 1950 when Harry was 9-years-old. From there, it follows the family to North Vancouver, BC where they faced racism as the only black family in a white neighbourhood. Harry’s love of sport – from baseball to soccer to basketball and volleyball – got him through these rough years as he cared for his younger sisters and made money through a paper route.

Near the end of high school, Harry found track and field and started training with Optimists Striders track club at the Brockton Oval in Stanley Park. As he began breaking records and winning races in relay, 100-yard, and 200-yard sprints, he found himself being admired rather than shunned for the first time in his life. Harry was on his way from being Canada’s fastest runner to a gold medal winner at the Olympics in Rome when he pulled his leg muscle in the 100-meter semi-final at the age of nineteen.

Following the Cub Scout motto “always try your best”, Harry went on to attend the University of Oregon on a full athletic scholarship. He continued breaking records until he became the first man to hold world records in both 100-meter and 100-yard sprint. Since I’ve already given away most of the story, you’ll have to read Runner to find out if he got a second chance to win gold or rectified his image with reporters.

Regardless of the ending, Harry Jerome is a person worth knowing about. This straightforward book puts the spotlight on a time and place in history, shows what it takes to be a high-level athlete, and explores how childhood influences the person you become. A quick read. Highly recommended.

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Elephant Mountain Literary Festival

My final event in a whirlwind of springtime author visits (the snow is almost gone now, BTW) was at the Nelson Public Library this past Friday. The event was hosted by the Elephant Mountain Literary Festival and it’s the first year they’ve included youth programming. I’m very grateful to Antonia Baynard for the invitation and the teachers at Hume Elementary School for bringing such an enthusiastic group of 2nd and 3rd grade students to listen to my presentation NO MORE RULES!!


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Spring has Sprung!

Piles of snow still surround my mountain home but I know it’s spring because my schedule is suddenly packed with author visits. My favourite time of year!

Tuesday night I participated in a panel for the last event of the Rossland Library‘s AUTHOR SERIES. It was so fun to talk writing and publishing with five other local authors. It’s amazing how many different paths there are to publication!

Then on Wednesday morning I was in front of a much different audience to celebrate LITERACY WEEK at Rossland Summit School. Along with two other children’s authors, I provided 200 students from kindergarten to grade eight with writing tips before letting them loose to create their own stories. It was very inspiring to hear all their creative ideas and help them get their stories out.

Now I’m busy preparing a workshop for next week’s YOUNG AUTHOR’S CONFERENCE at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops. I’m very excited to be returning for the third year in a row. This year my workshop is called NO MORE RULES!

I will also be talking about rules on May 11th in Nelson as part of the ELEPHANT MOUNTAIN LITERARY FESTIVAL. This is the first year they’ve offered this program and I’m honoured to be part of it. See the news release here.

In the meantime, I’m hoping my agent will go out on submission with my most recent project, REASONS TO TELL, before the start of summer. Other manuscripts are in various stages of development… hopefully I’ll have more to report soon. In the meantime, bring on the warmer weather!!



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Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

Title: Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

Author: Dusti Bowling

Publisher: Sterling Children’s Books

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 978-1-4549-2345-9

It’s hard not to instantly connect with the main character of this book, 13-year-old Aven Green, when she begins by sharing some of the stories she  makes up when she’s tired of “telling (people) the same boring story about being born without arms”. Right from the beginning, we know that Aven’s focused on what she can do, not what she can’t do. And thanks to her adoptive parents she’s learned to do a lot on her own. So much so, that there were times while I was reading that I forgot Aven”lacked Armagh”.

Because Aven has always gone to the same Kansas school, her friends and fellow students have stopped seeing her differently as well. But when Aven’s family moves to Arizona so her parents can manage Stagecoach Pass, a worn down, wild west theme park, everything changes. But even as befriends a boy with Tourette’s syndrome who’s really struggling with what he describes as a disability, her attitude remains almost too good to be true.

The story includes a mystery and a satisfying (if farfetched) ending, while providing various perspectives on ability and disability. There were times when I felt that Aven and her friends acted younger than their age but I really enjoyed seeing the world through their eyes. Recommended for aged 9 to 13.



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Rossland Author Series

I am so excited to be part of the line up for this great series featuring so many talented authors! On Tuesday, April 10th at 7pm I will be talking about my road to publication and reading the first chapter of my current work-in-progress, Reasons to Tell. The series is geared toward adults but my presentation will be of interest to anyone from age 9 to 109 who is interested in reading and/or writing. Please come join me!


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Hello, Universe

Title: Hello, Universe

Author: Erin Entrada Kelly

Publisher: HarperCollins (Greenwillow Books)

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 978-0-062-41415-1

This book starts slowly. My 12-year-old son gave up after ten pages because he was confused. If it hadn’t been a Newbery winner, I might’ve given up myself. I’m glad I didn’t because half way through, there is a shocking twist that is somewhat foreshadowed by the cover art but still took me totally by surprise. After that, I could not put the book down (and even convinced my 12-year-old to give it another go).

In retrospect, the story gets off to a slow and confusing start because it is told from the point of view of four different characters (one in first person, the rest in third). The author does a fabulous job of creating four nuanced, unique and diverse characters. This takes time and it pays off in the end as each character gets their own fairly complete arc.

The weakest character is the bully, Chet. He doesn’t change much through the course of the book but the reader does get some insight into why he is the way he is (and he is really awful). Kaori doesn’t change much either but she does put her psychic skills to good use, makes a friend/potential business partner, and provides some much needed levity (as does her sister). Virgil, who’s called “turtle” by his family because he’s so timid, shy and quiet, changes in a predictable way but I liked that he wasn’t immediately transformed by his life threatening experience. My favourite character, Valencia, is realistically portrayed as someone with a hearing loss. Through the story, she realizes how lonely she is and takes some huge steps toward fixing it but does not resolve her relationship with her mother.

Not every character evolves and not every problem gets resolved, which prevents the novel’s plot from getting tied up a little too nicely. I know I’m being vague about the story itself but I really don’t want to give too much away. The entire book takes place in the first few days of summer holidays after the four main characters finish 6th grade. There are not a lot of big plot points but the one big event is enough to set a lot of things in motion. Hello,Universe is a character driven novel with a lot of heart. It did not quite live up to my high expectations after winning the Newbery but I think it would be a great classroom read aloud.

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