Everyone’s a critic

Budding young book reviewers sound off on Summer Reading Challenge titles


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The second edition of the Winnipeg Free Press Summer Reading Challenge for Kids launched in June, providing readers aged 7 to 15 with book lists curated by our partners at McNally Robinson Booksellers.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/08/2021 (368 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The second edition of the Winnipeg Free Press Summer Reading Challenge for Kids launched in June, providing readers aged 7 to 15 with book lists curated by our partners at McNally Robinson Booksellers.

In addition to providing various reading guides and resources to help with comprehension as they work their way through all the books on the lists, we also asked the kids to share their thoughts about what they’ve read by way of a short book review. As you’ll see, we have some discerning young critics on our hands.

The Summer Reading Challenge for Kids is still in full swing, and we will be publishing another batch of reviews from our participants in early September. If you haven’t already registered, head to wfp.to/kidsbookclub and pop your email in the sign-up box to recieve updates and information about review submission deadlines. On that page, you can also see full 2021 reading list for all three age categories.


Duck Days

By Sarah Leach, illustrated by Rebecca Bender

Pajama Press, 120 pages, $20

Nola, 7, reviewed Duck Days.

The book is called Duck Days. Being a duck means not letting the mean words hurt you, and to be calm and go with the flow. Lauren works hard to be brave and ride on the mountain bike course with her training wheels. She gets help from her friends and rides over the teeter-totter. Lauren has a little sister named Lexi, she is funny like my little brother, Owen. Lauren has autism. One day I think she will get her training wheels off because she is brave.

★★★★★ out of 5

Nola, age 7


This book is great. I like this book because it is about a girl learning how to ride her bike. My favourite part is when Lauren is doing the obstacle course and Dan is making fun of her training wheels, and she did it and Dan was surprised. I like the part when Lauren does not want to do the obstacle course at Irma’s house and she does it and she likes it. I love this book because it is about bravery and getting over your fears.

★★★ out of 5

Sophie Lyons, age 9



Harvey Comes Home

By Colleen Nelson, illustrated by Tara Anderson

Pajama Press, 224 pages, $16

Lyla Bemister, 10, with the book she reviewed, Harvey Comes Home.

When Harvey’s owner Maggie goes on a trip, Harvey runs away. Then Austin finds him and brings him to Brayside Retirement Villa, an old folks home where Austin’s grandpa works. Harvey and Austin become close friends with Mr. Pickering, who lives at the old folks home. Mr. Pickering tell stories of his childhood during the Great Depression. When Maggie comes home she is looking for Harvey, but Austin is not ready to give Harvey up.

My favourite part is when Mr. Pickering tells the story of his childhood. I liked this book very much so I do not have a least favourite part.

★★★★★ out of 5

Lyla Bemister, age 10


Jack, age 10, reviewed Harvey Comes Home.

My name is Jack and I am 10 years old. I will be sharing about a book by Colleen Nelson called Harvey Comes Home. Other books by Colleen Nelson include Pulse Pointe, 250 hours and The Life and Deaths of Frankie D. Harvey Comes Home is a fiction story partly based on the author’s uncle.

One day, a dog named Harvey ran away from his owner, Maggie, and ended up at a retirement home with Austin, whose grandpa was living there. Everyday Austin visits a resident, Mr. Pickering, to hear stories about a dog named General, a girl named Bertie and Mr. Pickering when they were young. At the same time Maggie is searching everywhere for Harvey, just hoping finally for good news.

I really like the different perspectives of every chapter. I also like the beginning because it introduces all the characters and I was intrigued about the story. I also like the character Mr. Pickering because he has lots of historically interesting stories. My favorite part is the end, it’s full of happiness and sadness.

★★★★ out of 5

Jack, age 10


Amy Bouchard, 10, with her copy of Harvey Comes Home (and her dog Molly).

Harvey Comes Home is kind of a weird story about a girl named Maggie who owns a West Highland White Terrier named Harvey. When Maggie goes on vacation, Harvey runs away to find her and is found by a young many named Austin who works at the Brayside Senior’s Residence. Austin brings Harvey to the home because he thinks it’s cruel to leave him at a shelter. One of the residents, a cranky old many named Mr. Pickering, likes Harvey because he looks just like his own dog he had years ago. The story becomes all the stories old Mr. Pickering remembers throughout his life with his dog.

I would give this book a 3.5 out of 5. I didn’t really like this book as much as the others because some of the stories Mr. Pickering remembered were sad ones, or ones that were tough to read about. Something I had in common with the book is our family dog, Molly, who is also a Westie like Harvey and has her own adventures.

★★★1/2 out of 5

Amy Bouchard, age 10



Travels in Cuba

By Marie-Louise Gay and David Homel

Groundwood, 128 pages, $16

Travels in Cuba is about a family that takes a trip to Cuba. The narrator, Charlie, sometimes gets tired of his younger brother Max, which I can understand, but the most exciting parts of the book are when they’re together.

I like that Charlie and Max explore the real Cuba and its history. A few years ago, I went to Cuba with my family, but I never left the resort, so I never got to see the things they talk about in this book.

I recommend this book to all the kids who miss travelling as much as I do right now, because reading this book made me feel like I was seeing a part of the world I haven’t seen before.

★★★★★ out of 5

Atticus Penner, age 8



Like A Duck

By Deborah Kerbel

Scholastic Canada Ltd., 240 pages, $10

This book is about a girl named Sarah, who stopped talking when she was two years old, after her dad left. Her doctor recommended her mom get her an emotional support animal to help her out, and her mom decided to get her a duck named Webster! Fast forward and now Sarah is 12. Her mom is busy working and she has to go to a French cooking day camp and Webster goes with her… but a few days in he runs away! The adventure in the story becomes Sarah going to day camp, surviving without her duck while trying to find him at the same time!

I would give this book 4.5/5 stars. Overall, I really liked it, it was a cute story. I liked how, even though the mom could choose any animal, she chose a duck. I also liked reading about some of Webster’s funny stories, like how they had to get him duck diapers and how they would dress him up in little pink bowties.

★★★★1/2 out of 5

Amy, age 10


Every Home Needs an Elephant

By Jane Heinrichs

Orca, 160 pages, $11

Aubrey, age 8, with the book she reviewed, Every Home Needs an Elephant

I read the book Every Home Needs an Elephant. The book is about Sarah, who buys an elephant named Mr. Smith. Sarah’s friend is a princess who has a cat named Percy. Mr. Smith is very smart and helpful, which is why every home needs an elephant.

I really like the characters because they have so much going on in their life and they have great adventures, I really want that in my life. This book is for people who like animals and like a little bit of suspense.

★★★★★ out of 5

Aubrey, age 8


This book is about a girl that loves her elephant. My favourite part is when Sarah runs away with her elephant and they get chased by teenagers who want to take the elephant to the zoo. This book is sad because Sarah doesn’t think her mom loves her. This book is funny when the elephant runs away because he does not want to leave the town, and Sarah can’t find him even though he is a super big elephant. I liked the book but I did not feel there was much story to it.

★★ out of 5

Sophie Lyons, age 9



The Life and Deaths of Frankie D.

By Colleen Nelson

Dundurn Press, 256 pages, $15

Claire Bernardin, 10, with The Life and Deaths of Frankie D., by Winnipeg author Colleen Nelson.

Frankie is a 17-year-old girl who does not trust very easily. If you had a past like hers, you probably wouldn’t either. Frankie was found in an ally when she was around 10 years old. Since then, she lived with foster mom number one, foster mom number two and her boyfriend. She is goth and she thinks of it as armour because people stay away from her because of the way she dresses. She is currently living with Kris, her third foster mom. Kris is actually kind to Frankie and treats her with respect. When Frankie sees the man from her dreams at Comic-Con, things get complicated and weird very fast. Will Frankie figure out what is going on before it is to late?

My rating is 5 stars because I really enjoyed reading it. There are twists and cliffhangers to keep you on the edge of your seat and super intrigued. Colleen Nelson is also from Winnipeg, which I find cool.

★★★★★ out of 5

Claire Bernardin, age 10



Sara and the Search for Normal

By Wesley King

Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 272 pages, $11

Sara Malvern is an introverted, intelligent 12-year-old girl who struggles with several mental illnesses and just wants to be normal. This book follows her journey towards overcoming her illnesses as well as helping her friend.

I really enjoyed reading this book. Sara was an amazingly written character who intrigued me and had me rooting for her from the very beginning. This book taught me a lot about people with mental illnesses and what they deal with on a daily basis, and I was happy to learn it. Reading it was certainly an emotional roller coaster, but that just got me more hooked.

One thing I loved in particular is that Sara was willing to do anything to help her friend. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who asked for a good read.

★★★★★ out of 5

Megan MacDiarmid, age 12

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