Vikki VanSickle on Writing, Reading & Other Pipedreams

Everything I need to know in life, I learned from children's literature

Middle Grade Monday: The Doldrums


I dare you to look through this book without a) gasping b) petting the cover and c) calling over your friends or colleagues so they can also gasp and pet the cover. Of course it is the untenable thing-the story-that counts, but when the package is this deluxe, it certainly doesn’t hurt. Luckily Nicholas Gannon‘s words, characters, and art live up to the promise of the book’s beautiful packaging.

Archer B. Helmsley has grown up in a house full of oddities and trinkets his adventuring grandparents have brought back from their world travels. His grandparents are currently missing and his parents don’t understand Archie or his wander-lust. Luckily Archer makes a friend in neighbour Oliver Glub, who is not as keen on adventuring but will give it a go for Archer’s sake, and Adelaide L. Beaumont, recently arrived from France with a wooden leg and an air of mystery. The three friends hatch an escape plan, but naturally things do not go as expected.


This is a very classic middle grade story about friendship masquerading as an adventure story. That isn’t to say that there isn’t adventure in this delightful tale- there is lots of mystery, calamitous situations, mysterious trunks, encounters with odd strangers, etc. In a way the book demonstrates how anything can turn into an adventure when you’re with friends. Archer, Oliver and Adelaide don’t even realize how lonely they are until they find each other. Gannon has an assured, sensitive narrative voice and some truly lovely phrasing. I found myself wanting to underline certain lines to help imprint them on my brain.


Gannon’s art is warm and delicate and captures the same slightly nostalgic, cozy tone as his writing. Art includes a mix of black and white spot illustrations, coloured plates, and sepia-toned architectural drawings. You can get a sense of the art by visiting the wonderful website, which also includes character descriptions, selected scenes, and lots of carefully curated extras.  This is the ideal book to read curled up in an over-sized chair on a rainy day. It made me crave milky tea in a delicate cup, cozy knitted sweaters, and mail in thick envelopes, sealed with wax. Perfect for fans of The Greenglass House, The Mysterious Benedict Society, classic New York story The Saturdays, Under the Egg and anything by E. L. Konigsburg.

The Doldrums is available now in hard cover from Greenwillow, an imprint of Harper Collins.

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Middle Grade Monday: Harriet the Invincible


If you don’t already know Ursula Vernon, you will soon. This author-illustrator is on the verge of making it big. The creator of the very funny Dragonbreath series as well as a few equally hilarious middle grade novels, Vernon’s new series Hamster Princess casts my new favourite rodent in a proposed series of fractured fairytales.

The gift of invincibility has made Harriet Hamsterbone extremely confident. Determined to make the most of her invincibility before a sleeping curse sets in she spends the first 12 years of her life adventuring and slaying monsters. Even when her invincibility wears off and she is as mortal as anyone else, her confidence and exuberance remains. How wonderful to have a heroine who deals with challenges, be they sleeping curses, ogrecats or arranged marriage, head on.

Vernon’s sense of humour shines. While Harriet is a great comedienne, reluctant-adventurer Prince Wilbur gets in a few zingers himself. Much of the humour exists in the dialogue, including a series of graphic asides with speech bubbles (i.e. “You must have missed someone. Are you sure you kissed all the newts?”), but there are some very funny illustrations, too.  The image of Harriet riding her beloved steed, a quail named Mumphrey, silhouetted against a grand landscape, still cracks me up.

Fairytales, be they traditional or reinterpreted or new stories in the classic tradition, are everywhere. Some of the best-selling book series (The Descendants; The Land of Stories) and most popular TV shows (Once Upon a Time) or films (Cinderella; Maleficent; Frozen) of the past few years are fairytale related. As a culture we cannot seem to get enough of them. Princesses in general seem to be forever being debated (Disney princesses vs warrior princesses; princesses in pink vs princesses in black). Harriet Hamsterbone is a welcome addition to the world of middle grade princesses; a confident, funny, and capable royal with a penchant for fractions and a desire to right wrongs.

Obvious readers include fans of the Babymouse, Lunch Lady, and Origami Yoda series, in addition to fairytale and princess devotees, but I am hard pressed to think of a kid who would not laugh out loud at Harriet’s adventures. With large font, frequent illustrations and a great premise this is an excellent choice for early chapter book readers, but it would also make a wonderful read-aloud, particularly in the classroom. Learn more about Harriet and Vernon’s other series here.

Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible is published by Dial books, available now from Penguin Random House Canada. To get a sense of the illustrations and hilarious hi jinx, check out the trailer here:

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Middle Grade Monday: Something Wiki


Middle grade fiction isn’t always gentle or fantastical. Sometimes it can be downright moody, icky, and gross. Thank goodness. Puberty is rarely gentle or magical, so why should fiction tackling the subject be?In Something Wiki, we get a peek inside the mind and body of tween Jo Waller. Each chapter opens with a wikipedia entry that our young narrator has edited to suit her own experiences. This is Jo in a nutshell- internet-savvy, smart, and just entering that phase of tweendom where she is keenly, physically aware of herself.

It is clear that Canadian author Suzanne Sutherland remembers what it is to be a tween. This is a very physical book and there are lots of discussions about the physical experience of adolescence. The kind that make adults cringe and tweens go YES, MORE, PLEASE! Jo is constantly concerned about her acne, the treatment of which runs through the whole book like a low-grade fever. There is also lots of blood, but not the guts and gore kind, the everyday kind- from stepping on a tack, to pimples that have popped, to good old once a month menstrual blood.

One of the things I love best about middle grade is the navigation of relationships. Jo is in the middle of some mean girl games in addition to hard-core adulation of her older brother, a very cool musician with a downtown apartment. I love how much Jo looks up to her big brother and his girlfriend. When she discovers her brother’s girlfriend is pregnant, she starts to think more about sex and also comes to realize that they are both people with problems who make mistakes- not these big, cool, unattainable gods she has worked them up to be in her mind.

I also like the glimpses of Toronto, something Sutherland did well in her debut novel When We Were Good. So much middle grade seems to be set in small-town, middle-of-somewhere North America (something I am guilty of)  but here we are firmly in downtown Toronto. Urban readers will appreciate a glimpse of their lifestyle and rural or suburban readers get all the fun of experiencing the truth of city life (still pretty boring when you’re underage). Other than Susin Nielsen, who sets her novels in Vancouver, not many Canadian kids’ writers use major Canadian cities as a backdrop.

With short chapters, lots of believable dialogue and a breezy pace, young readers will fly through Something Wiki before passing it off to their friends.

Something Wiki is available in paperback now from Dundurn Press.

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Middle Grade Monday: Sunny Side Up

sunny side up

With that bright blue cover, bouncy font and beach-y theme, Sunny Side Up looks like a typical summer read. But looks can be deceiving. Sunny Side Up is a moving story about coming to terms with difficult secrets disguised as a typical summer read. So-called ‘typical’ elements include a summer spent away from home, steamy days spent by the pool, and adventures with a new friend. It is not surprising that tween-whisperer Jenni Holm makes the elements atypical– instead of camp or a cottage Sunny is sent to stay with her grandfather in a retirement community, the local pond has Big Al, a resident Alligator, and adventures include a cat-rescue business Sunny and her new friend Carl start up, a which provides a fantastic sequence of the two of them sniffing out a whole list of cats with great names.  But half the book is comprised of Sunny’s flashbacks to the months leading up to summer, at home in Philadelphia, chronicling the decline of Sunny’s older brother, Dale.

You will know Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm from the wonderful Babymouse series. Nineteen books later, Babymouse still remains one of my favourite chapter book heroines, a sort of sassy cross between Ramona Quimby and Bianca from The Rescuers, but still her own mouse. Jennifer has also written a number of middle grade novels, three of which have been Newbery honour winners: The sublime Turtle in ParadiseOur Only May Amelia, and Penny From Heaven. And don’t forget about The Fourteenth Goldfish, which now lives in my permanent middle grade top ten.

A delicate balance is struck between Florida fun-times and the darker flashbacks. Sunny’s backstory unravels like a mystery, which adds a nice pace to the read. This is an astute and gentle treatment of children who are dealing with substance abuse in their families. In an author’s note, the Holms’ refer to their own experiences and explain that they wrote the book so children in this situation could learn not to be ashamed and that it’s important to talk about feelings. It also strikes me as a good way to introduce the topic of family struggle (with or without substance abuse) in general.

The Holms are trail-blazers in middle grade graphic novels, a genre which has been given a huge boost by the popularity of Raina Telgemeier’s books. Sunny Side Up will appeal to Telgemeier fans but at 216 pages it is a slimmer novel with less text. It is a nice step up for fans of Babymouse and chapter book readers in the 8-11 range, though older children will find much to love here as well. Learn more about the book and how it came to be by tuning into the brand new children’s literature podcast The Yarn, hosted by middle grade champions Colby Sharp and Travis Jonker, and available on iTunes.

Sunny Side Up is available now from Scholastic Canada.

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Middle Grade Monday: Monstrous


This cover captured my heart long before its heroine Kymera did. But now that I’ve read her tale, Kymera’s story is one that will stay with me for a long time. In an overall strong book the character of Kymera is perhaps the strongest element and I have no doubt that other readers will root, worry, and cry for her as I did. Imagine if Dr. Frankenstein created a girl with cat eyes, a snake’s tail, and the wings of a raven and taught her to be a superhero and you have the very basic premise of Monstrous.

We meet Kymera when she first awakes and we are told- as she is- that she died but has been brought back to life with a few adjustments (including a tail, wings, and claws) by an ostracized scientist grieving the loss of his wife (her mother) and daughter (Kymera, though she has no memories from her life before). Father teaches Kym about the kingdom of Bryre, which is being tormented by an evil wizard. The girls of Bryre are falling sick and Kym sneaks into the prison where they are kept and steals them one at a time, bringing them back to her cottage in the woods before they are sent to safety in neighbouring kingdom Belladoma. At first Kym is happy to do as her father bids, never speaking to anyone, never straying from the route, trusting him implicitly. But for each day that she is alive, she starts to become curious and craves friendship, knowledge, justice and reassurance. When she befriends Ren, a boy who works as a messenger for the King, and her memories start to come back, Kym starts to question the things she has been taught.

This is an engrossing fairytale with an unusual and empathetic heroine. MarcyKate Connolly has stitched elements from various fairytales and horror stories into a dark but lovely tale. Great fantasy addresses the bigger questions in life but does so without feeling pedantic. In Monstrous the stakes are always high. There is much to discuss here about growing up, power, responsibility, and sacrifice. Though the tone is gentle, Connolly does not try to hide her narrator’s blood lust or taste for vengeance, nor the villagers readiness to burn a stranger at the stake. Gambles are taken-sometimes with lives- and lost. The blood and consequences create a capital F Fairytale and also a classic tragedy in the Greek sense.

The language is vivid and it is easy to imagine Kymera and her world, which is both familiar and new. The cover illustration is beyond perfect and though this is definitely a Bookish Book I couldn’t help but picture the incredible work a studio like Ghibli could do with an  animated version. I would love to see how they bring the Rock Dragon, the dungeons of Belladoma, and most importantly, Kymera herself- to life. A tween may delve into this book and not come out for days but I think it could also be read-aloud to younger children, provided they aren’t easily upset by injustice, betrayal, and death. Adult readers may see the twists before they are revealed, but young readers or those less familiar with fairytale tropes will likely be taken by surprise as truths are discovered.

I would love to talk about the ending, and how brave Connolly is in her decisions- which are heartbreaking yet felt necessary- but I do not want to spoil the joy of reading this novel, which was a transportive experience. Find me on twitter @vikkivansickle and we can gush there. Fans of Eon, The PeculiarThe Glass Sentence, and Talon will definitely embrace the strange and lovely Kymera.

Monstrous is available now in hard cover from Harper Collins.


Middle Grade Monday: Goodbye Stranger


A Rebecca Stead book is always unexpected and always a delight. I very much enjoyed her Northern fantasy First Light and remember hand-selling the heck out of it to die-hard City of Ember fans in my bookseller days. Then I read When You Reach Me and was struck by how timeless it felt, despite being very rooted in a time & place. Liar & Spy was a quieter character study, very much setting up the reader for the meditation on friendship and contemporary adolescence that is Goodbye Stranger.

My favourite Judy Blume novel is Just As Long As We’re Together, which is essentially about girls navigating the politics of being a trio of best friends. In a way, Goodbye Stranger is a post modern meditation on Just As Long As We’re Together, exploring a spectrum of relationships, from downright cruel to occasionally toxic to fair-weathered to remarkably strong. It sounds unbelievable to say that Stead touches on all the questions of adolescence in one novel (friendships, first romance,  changing relationships to parents, finding your tribe, identity), but not only does she manage it, she does it so deftly it left me stunned and unable to pick up another book for days.

There are essentially three story lines about friendship that overlap- though the plot told entirely in second person feels relatively separate until all is revealed in the end. Bridge, Tab and Emily represent the healthiest possible kind of friendship. Even when dealing with little betrayals they stick to their promise of no fighting and when they DO argue, it is remarkably mature if not a touch idealistic. This is contrasted by a second-person anonymous storyline chronicling the ups and downs in another group of girls that is heartbreaking and at a times chilling (THE CINNAMON)!)

This is also a book about the first stirrings of romantic relationships. Much of the narrative is taken up with a photo Em sends to her maybe-boyfriend that is seen by a group of boys and eventually the whole school, threatening her reputation.  Stead handles this murky and topical scenario carefully and dare I say gently, addressing the issue and its implications but choosing for the best-case scenario. To me this makes perfect sense for the age group, some of whom will be scared silly by the idea of sending a photo of themselves to a boy, and others who have already done so and may relate to the stinging repercussions.

While Em is getting into kissing and embracing her burgeoning sexuality Bridge is moving at her own slower pace with Sherm, who is the cutest of cute and quite possibly my favourite tween love interest since Thomas J in the movie My Girl*. Bridge and Sherm clearly have a mutual interest but neither is ready to take it past spending time together and conversation. Adults are terrified by the desires and awakening romantic appetites of tweens but the truth is that they exist and deserve to be addressed. I love that Stead has two characters of the same age in very different places, romantically speaking. But romantics are rewarded with a truly gorgeous epilogue that I will refrain from re-typing word-for-word except for the following sentence, my new favourite line about love:”Kissing Sherman was like saying “And. . .and. . .and. . .”

The book is not just about girl relationships. Bridge’s older brother Jamie is embroiled in a competitive and toxic friendship of his own with Alex, a frenemy who is bent on tricking Jamie out of his beloved possessions in a cat-and-mouse game involving a limited number of steps per day that seems rigged to make Jamie fail. Sherm, Bridge’s not-quite-love interest, is also present in a series of letters written to his absentee grandfather who he hasn’t quite forgiven for up and leaving him. There is much to be gleaned here about the complications of tween and teenage friendship, male or female.

I haven’t even mentioned Tab and her glorious indignation at injustice and her strong moral code, or the cat ears that Bridge has seemingly inexplicably started to wear and what they represent. This book is an embarrassment of riches and I don’t want to waste your time praising them here- go read it yourself! I will say there are coincidences and twists of fate one has come to expect from a Stead novel and the uncanny dialogue that feels not only authentic but also transcends time and place to feel timeless, like dialogue in a play. This book begs for multiple readings and each time the reader will come away with new insights and a deeper appreciation for Stead as a middle grade magician.

Goodbye Stranger has vaulted into my all-time top ten and I can’t recommend it enough. Rebecca Stead is now the Golden Standard that I personally aspire to as a middle grade writer and belongs in the ranks of Madeline L’Engle, Judy Blume and E. L. Konigsburg. Give this book to a tween in your life and take a peek yourself to get a glimpse of the complicated world contemporary tweens are navigating which is perhaps not so different from what you experienced, but likely has not been so deftly or eloquently expressed as by Stead.

Goodbye Stranger is available now from Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

*For  proof of my undying love for Thomas J and his impact on my own writing, please see Benji in my books Words That Start With B; Love is a Four-Letter Word and Days That End in Y

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Middle Grade Monday: The Fourteenth Goldfish


This is one of those deceiving middle grade novels that seems straight forward and charming but is so deeply layered that the minute you try to examine it you are left with the conclusion that Jenni Holm is a genius and mere mortals should not try to dissect her work.

Ellie does not know what to think when a fourteen year old boy shows up at her door sounding exactly like her grandfather. It turns out he IS her grandfather, a scientist who has discovered T. Melvinius (named after himself, naturally) which has reversed the process of aging. Because he appears to be a teenager he can no longer live alone, drive a car, or access his lab. Ellie and her mother (a wonderfully colourful drama teacher) adjust to having him in the house and Ellie agrees to help him break into his lab, recover the formula, and change the world. But is growing old really so bad?

There is so much to love here I’m not sure where to begin, but let’s start with Mevin himself. Melvin acts like an old man but looks like a teenager, a premise that provides endless comedy. He is forced to go to school where he finds the curriculum lacking, wears a combination of Ellie’s cast-offs and old man standards, and scolds his daughter as if she is the teenager instead of him. Ellie’s observations are wise but age appropriate. Melvin shows up right at the time in which she is growing apart from her former best friend Brianna and trying to find out what her own passion is. Her parents want it to be drama, but could it be that like her grandfather, she likes science? Her mother is struggling with having her disapproving father under the same roof again- even if she is technically the adult. Ellie gets a glimpse of her mother as a girl which opens a whole new world of possibility.

This is the kind of book you need to press into the hands of everyone you know and say “read this so we can talk about it.” It is warm, reassuring, ridiculous, poignant, and totally weird. At times I was reminded of the movie Big,  but it says a lot about the book that I cannot think of a specific comp nor can I think of someone who would not love it. Like the humour of Diary of a Wimpy Kid? You’ll love The Fourteenth Goldfish. Prefer stories about friendship and growing up ala Wendy Mass or Rebecca Stead? Look no further! Only like books about magic or fantastical things? Voila!

At 190 pages and featuring short chapters and largish font, this is a feat of brevity, especially considering how rich the book is. Without giving too much away, I was worried we were veering into Flowers for Algernon territory, but Holm gracefully skirts an explosive or maudlin  conclusion in favour of a mysterious one. I cannot express how skillful this ending is. Not quite science fiction, not straight up contemporary realism, this is contemporary fiction with a twist- a woefully inadequate way to describe a unique and compelling book. When all else fails, turn to Rebecca Stead, who says of this book “Awesomely strange and startling true-to-life. It makes you wonder what’s possible.”

The Fourteenth Goldfish is available now from Penguin Random House.


The Book Lovers’ Guide to Purging


Over the course of a year I amass a lot of books. I attend lots of book launches and have an endless appetite for new books, used books, novelty books, books I intend to use for research purposes for novels I want to write…and so on. What I don’t have is a lot of space. Perhaps the only thing I like as much as books is a tidy, well-ordered apartment.

Can a girl have it all, a massive library and a neat, efficient living space?

Yes, but it does require some purging. Like most book-lovers I am quite attached to my books; In fact, I am a secret sentimentalist. As a child I used to fret over which stuffed animal I would choose to sleep in my arms every night, worried I would deeply offend the others, relegated to the cold, lonely, end of the bed. Similarly, an irrational part of me worries that the author will somehow know I have not kept their book and by removing it from my personal collection I am letting her down. This is nonsense. The best way to support an author is to buy her book– which you have done. The next best thing is to spread the word.

Don’t think of purging your shelves as throwing your books away, think of it as passing them on to another reader who will love and appreciate them. You are a benevolent benefactor of books gifting someone her next best read. You can of course drop your books off at Goodwill, Value Village, or a used bookstore, but I find the following alternatives allow me to sleep easier at night, even without a well-worn stuffie.

 Little Free Library


These book boxes are popping up all over the world and might be the most charming way to donate your books. Check out the map on their website to find the location nearest to you or to register a box of your very own. I have dreams of building a Hogwarts Little Free Library one day. Check out the variety of boxes on instagram (@littlefreelibrary)

Visit your Local Library Branch


Increase the reach of your books ten-fold by donating to the library. Some branches will accept recent books in very good condition. Not all libraries accept donations-don’t leave books in the drop-off bin or in a box outside the door. Ask to speak to a librarian at your local branch and allow him/her to go through your selection.

The Children’s Book Bank


In Toronto we are lucky to have this wonderful organization that allows children in lower-income areas to take a book home with them- for keeps- every time they visit the bank. They are currently accepting books for children up to age 12. You can visit the bank or leave your gently-used books in the drop-off box at Mabel’s Fables. They also run programming and have a great trivia contest on instagram (@thechildrensbookbank).

Start a Gift Box


Find a nice box or storage container that matches your decor and store books you think would make great gifts. Invited to a dinner party? Bring a book instead of a bottle of wine. Last minute baby shower? That signed picture book you got at a launch would be perfect. Heading up to someone’s cottage for the weekend? Everyone appreciates a new addition to their summer library. While this does not get books out of the house immediately, it does clear up shelves. Finding a nice storage box to keep them clean and tucked away is key.

Be a Book Fairy 


Everybody loves mail. Select a book you love and send it to a friend or a friend’s child who you think will have a particular interest in that book. Even better, include a letter explaining why you chose this book for them. This gives you an excellent reason to invest in the fantastic new Alice Munro stamps.

Local School


There isn’t a public school in Canada that isn’t strapped for cash. Library and classroom budgets are getting smaller and smaller, what better way to encourage a love of reading within your own community than donating to a local school? Make sure you are in contact with a teacher or librarian and allow them to select from what you have. They understand their students’ needs better than you will. Don’t treat a school like Value Village- a place where you can unceremoniously dump what you don’t want.

Summer Camps


Like schools and libraries, camps are another great hotbed of reading. I have fond memories of trading novels with my fellow counsellors and reading aloud to the girls in my cabin. Look up your old sleep-away camp or ask a friend who has a child in camp if they could use some books. Some camps have reading rooms or lending libraries that operate out of the tuck shop.

Purging makes you feel great. So does donating books.

Where do you like to take your gently-used books? Let me know in the comments!




I was flattered when Fierce Ink Press approached me to write a piece for their Fierce Shorts program. Featuring powerful work by Jo Treggiari, Susin Nielsen and Alice Kuipers, the Fierce Shorts program is a response to the It Gets Better movement in which YA authors write a short, digital piece about an experience they had in high school.  A portion of the proceeds is donated to a charity of the author’s choice.

Nonfiction is a tricky business. As vividly as some memories stick with you, there will always be details that need to be re-imagined. The events in Amy Abbot is Having a Party really happened. The characters are people I knew. But while I remember certain cutting comments and well-timed compliments word for word, most of the dialogue is an approximation of conversations I had.

I love reading memoir. I love the humour and the outrageous stories in Cathy Gildiner’s trilogy of memoirs, Too Close to the Falls, After the Falls, and Coming Ashore. I love the heart and charm of legit teenager Maya Van Wagenen’s Popular. I will read any food memoir. Some of my favourites include Tender at the Bone, A Homemade Life  My Berlin Kitchen. But I never once considered writing it myself until Fierce Ink came knocking.

Like most people I have a bag of anecdotes I can rummage around in and pull out something apropos as needed. The time I climbed through an open window of an abandoned house as a kid, a result of reading a lot of Nancy Drew. The time I convinced my grade eight teacher to allow me to hand in chapters of a novel instead of my English assignments.  These anecdotes are short, pithy gems polished from years of telling. They may be true stories but they have a distancing effect. They represent how I want to be perceived. Like fiction, they are a smokescreen that I can project upon.

That wasn’t going to cut it this time around.

The truth? My high school experience was very vanilla. Not even French vanilla, but no-name vanilla. I was a good student. I was a joiner. When I wasn’t at school or band practise or in the student council office I was working at my part-time job. No boys, no alcohol, no drugs, no real drama to speak of. I didn’t relate to teenage struggles presented to me in fiction or movies because I never really felt like one. I went from feeling thirteen to thirty-five. Now tween angst I can do. My tween years are as clear to me as the images on my fancy hi-def TV, which is why I tend to write middle grade.

This is not to say that I didn’t have my share of teen angst, as my journals and some truly terrible poetry demonstrate. But my shade of conflict felt pale in comparison to the struggles of so many others. Then I thought about all those thirteen-going-on-thirty-five year old teens out there who maybe don’t see themselves in YA. By writing about myself, I am also writing for them.

So this is my story, a little slice of my life back in 1999 in Woodstock, Ontario. Britney Spears had just burst onto the scene and everyone watched Survivor. I was considering taking kick boxing, which was all the rage thanks to Billy Blanks and Tae-bo.  Maybe you will see a bit of yourself in this story, or recognize a friend or family member. Or maybe you’ll simply be entertained, which is fine with me.  For each download a percentage of the proceeds will go to Girls Rock Camp Toronto, one of my favourite organizations.

You can purchase Amy Abbot is Having a Party at Kobo, iTunes or

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Manhattan and Macarons: The Summer Invitation Review


This lovely confection of a book feels a bit like a contemporary fairytale, or at the very least a glimpse at what Eloise’s life might have been like as a teenager. Valentine (pronounced Valen-teen) and Franny are invited to spend the summer in their eccentric and wealthy aunt’s Greenwich Village apartment with sculptress and chaperone-of-many-secrets, Clover. Valentine is desperate to fall in love and Franny isn’t sure what she wants out of the summer just yet- but what she doesn’t want is to be left behind.

For a certain person, this is the ultimate fantasy- an all expenses paid trip to the kind of 1960s Manhattan that likely doesn’t exist anymore. Franny and Valentine shop for fancy lingerie, get make-overs, go to classic old New York bars and have deep conversations with gentlemen in their sixties. Valentine meets a handsome cellist and embarks on the love affair of her dreams. Franny is naive but an old soul at heart, and like her aunt and Clover she appreciates history, sophistication, and solitude. Think champagne, oysters, and sheath dresses. Her naiveté would make the book appropriate for a middle grade reader, though it is technically marketed as YA.

I read and enjoyed Charlotte Silver’s memoir Charlotte au Chocolat and her delicate, almost whimsical prose is put to good use here. There are hints of darkness and melancholy, but they are employed to heighten the giddy, fizzy experience of Franny’s first summer in New York. One of my favourite middle grade novels is Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters, and this felt like the perfect next step for readers of that book. Light, classic and sweet as a macaron, this is a frothy and tender look at that old fictional trope, “The Summer That Changed My Life.”

The Summer Invitation is available now from Roaring Brook Press.

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