Another summer has come and gone, but before we also bid farewell to the Summer Reading Challenge for Kids, we’ve collected a second batch of reviews submitted by a crew of young critics who offered their thoughts on several books from our reading lists curated in conjunction with McNally Robinson Booksellers.

Another summer has come and gone, but before we also bid farewell to the Summer Reading Challenge for Kids, we’ve collected a second batch of reviews submitted by a crew of young critics who offered their thoughts on several books from our reading lists curated in conjunction with McNally Robinson Booksellers.


The Barren Grounds

By David A. Robertson

Puffin Canada, 256 pages, $22

Budding young book reviewers sound off on Summer Reading Challenge titles

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Nola, 7, reviewed Duck Days.						</p>
Nola, 7, reviewed Duck Days.

Posted: 3:00 AM Aug. 7, 2021

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.

Read Full Story

Wow, I can’t even explain how amazing this book is! It’s happy and funny with a hint of sadness. It’s unbelievable how David Robertson put all those feelings in one book. It’s incredible!

The book is about an Indigenous girl, Morgan, who is really struggling with her identity. Morgan has been in foster care most of her life, believing her parents gave her away. As a result she is angry, depressed and lonely. She has just recently moved in with two new foster parents and another foster child named Eli. Eli is an amazing artist and drew a picture that turned out to be a portal to a land called Aski.

Once through the portal, Morgan and Eli discover that Aski is not only a barren land, but in perpetual winter. There they meet Ochek the fisher and Arik the squirrel. The children decide to help the creatures return the other three seasons to their land. Once they get permission from the community of Misewa, their adventurous journey begins.

The Barren Grounds is a book about self-discovery, friendship and culture. I could hardly put it down! Boy, I can’t wait for the next book in the series!

★★★★★ out of 5

Charlotte Wilson Allen, age 9


Supplied</p><p>Timothy Bueckert, 11, felt The Barren Grounds was ‘a very good book to read during a hot summer day.’</p>


Timothy Bueckert, 11, felt The Barren Grounds was ‘a very good book to read during a hot summer day.’

The Barren Grounds is a very good book to read during a hot summer day. I think the book is sort of like The Chronicles of Narnia, but also is very important for teaching us about the position of the First Nations people. I like the book because it is like a second version of Narnia (which is an amazing book series) that I can read in a different context. It is also great because of its unpredictability to take a weird and much appreciated twist. The one thing that I think the book needs to get people interested is a faster beginning, because while it is a good way to introduce characters, it makes it hard for the reader to get to the main plot.

★★★★ out of 5

Timothy Bueckert, age 11


Supplied</p><p>Atticus Bolton, 9, thought Arik and Ochek ‘made a really funny pair’ in The Barren Grounds.</p>


Atticus Bolton, 9, thought Arik and Ochek ‘made a really funny pair’ in The Barren Grounds.

The Barren Grounds is a book about two Indigenous Winnipeg children named Morgan and Eli. Morgan and Eli are foster children who live together in a foster home and think of each other as brother and sister. The story tells of a man who came to the village of Misewa and took away the summer birds, which brought animals and warmth. Without them, Misewa could not have summer.

One day, Eli drew a picture of an unknown animal being who seemed to be trying to run towards them. When they stapled it to the wall, a magical thing happened. It opened a portal to Misewa. The two go on an adventure with a bear named Ochek (the Cree word for fisher) and a talking squirrel named Arik to save the starving village from eternal winter. They face many difficulties on their journey, including a wolf named Mahihkan.

I really enjoyed reading this book! One of my favourite things about it was how Arik and Ochek argue. I also really liked Arik’s personality because it was almost opposite of Ochek’s so they made a really funny pair. Something I didn’t like was how you did not get to see Mahihkan more.

★★★★ out of 5

Atticus Bolton, age 9


This story is about two foster kids, Morgan and Eli, who live in Winnipeg. Morgan is having trouble adjusting and believes Eli is too, but really, she starts to put all her emotions on him when he is really fine. After a huge blow out with her foster family one morning, Morgan and Eli make their own secret space in the attic. But when Eli hangs his first drawing to help decorate… something magical happens. It starts to snow! When Morgan wakes up the next morning, Eli is missing and she must journey into the drawing to find him. Morgan meets Eli in an Indigenous village and together they work to help the village bring spring back.

The start of the story made me feel sad. I felt bad that Morgan felt so angry and couldn’t find a way to get over being angry and learn more about herself. Overall, I really loved this book when I got deeper in. I like how, when Morgan finds the Indigenous community, she finds herself and the anger starts to go away. In the end, everyone has a happier ending.

I would give this book a 4.5-5. I loved everything about this book, but the start was hard to get through. I would definitely read this book again, as well as the rest of the series.

★★★★1/2 out of 5

Amy Bouchard, age 10


This book was amazing! It was about a foster kid named Morgan that has a bad temper and another foster kid named Eli that loves to draw. One day Eli’s draw pad gets run over by a car and he is very sad so Morgan gets Eli a new drawing pad at school. But when Eli draws a picture on it and they try to staple it to the wall and the picture comes to life Morgan doesn’t want Eli to go through the picture and he does. So Morgan goes in to find him and they find each other and they go on a huge adventure. This book is great for readers that like adventures.

★★★★ out of 5

Sophie Lyons, age 9




By Faith Erin Hicks, Rainbow Rowell and Sarah Stern

First Second, 224 pages, $25

Supplied</p><p>Bethany Baker, 9, says Pumpkinheads is in her ‘Top 15’ books.</p>


Bethany Baker, 9, says Pumpkinheads is in her ‘Top 15’ books.

I liked Pumpkinheads a lot, I’d say it’s in my Top 15. I wish it had a little more action, adventure and mystery, but that is what I personally think, and everyone has their own opinions.

All right let’s get to the good stuff! I think that readers around my age would really love this considering that I only read it once. I liked/loved that it had choices; the boy could choose to not follow his best friend or he could, and he chose well, which I am very happy about because I do not know what would happen. Goodness, I don’t want to think about it even. I also liked/loved that it is very funny considering that they are in the middle of doing multiple things. Would I recommend it? Of course I would recommend it! If I didn’t, I think I would be crazy!

★★★★ out of 5

Bethany Baker, age 9


The Case of the Burgled Bundle

By Michael Hutchinson

Second Story Press, 208 pages, $11

Supplied</p><p>Ten-year-old Amy Bouchard says The Case of the Burgled Bundle is a ‘good book for learning more about Indigenous cultures.’</p>


Ten-year-old Amy Bouchard says The Case of the Burgled Bundle is a ‘good book for learning more about Indigenous cultures.’

This book is the third in the series about Chickadee, Atim, Sam and Otter, four cousins who formed a detective group together called the Mighty Muskrats. In this story, the Mighty Muskrats are at the National Assembly of the Cree Peoples, a gathering for the Nehiyew (Cree) people from all over Canada. Trouble happens right away when on the first day of the ceremonies the Treaty Bundle goes missing. Now it’s up to the Mighty Muskrats to get it back.

This is a good book for learning more about Indigenous cultures because it helps by telling real information about Indigenous ceremonies, traditions and even history in Canada too, inside the story to help the reader learn more. This book reminds us that we are all Treaty people, that everyone is part of Canada’s treaties and do their best to follow what was promised.

It was kind of hard to read at first because it was the third book in the series, which made things harder to understand. I would recommend starting with books 1 and 2 (The Case of Windy Lake and The Case of the Missing Auntie) to help understand the characters better.

Overall, I would give this book a 3.5. While I loved learning more about Indigenous culture, I found the story hard to follow sometimes.

★★★1/2 out of 5

Amy Bouchard, age 10


This book was amazing! It’s great for people who like solving mysteries. It teaches you about Indigenous cultures and traditions. In this book the bundle was stolen and you have to try and figure out who stole it. The bundle was very important to the Cree people because the elders could use it to teach the next generation about their past because it was filled with Cree history.

My favourite part of the book was the investigations of the stolen bundle. I would recommend this book.

I would like to thank the Winnipeg Free Press for giving me the book for free because I won the contest.

★★★★1/2 out of 5

Jack Burgess, age 11




Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell

By Melanie Watt

Tundra Books, 72 pages, $17

Scaredy Squirrel is awesome! Scaredy Squirrel lives in a nut tree. He is afraid of almost everything. In the book, Scaredy is trying to clean up all the dust around his tree because he is scared of germs and dust bunnies. My favourite part was when Scaredy Squirrel picked up what he thought was a dust bunny, but was actually an ear muff from a friendly bunny named Ivy. Ivy is his new next-door neighbour who tries to become friends with Scaredy. Scaredy feels nervous about all the things that could go wrong talking to Ivy.

This book made me laugh out loud! It is funny that the Scaredy Squirrel book has a quiz at the front about who should read the book — it lists all the stuff Scaredy is afraid about. Thank you to the Winnipeg Free Press and McNally Robinson for the cool books to read! (My little sister Remie practiced some drawing on the cover of my book, but it is still fun to read).

★★★★1/2 stars out of 5

Freddy Kehoe, age 7


This book is very funny! I really like Scaredy Squirrel’s creative ideas on how to keep his tree safe. It is funny when Ivy says hi and he starts to panic and play dead. My favourite part is when he gives Ivy nametags and one of them says poison Ivy. I love how Scaredy Squirrel protects himself with his weird outfits. I think it is really funny when he tries to list food without nuts after all his nuts fall off his tree and he says lots of foods, but they all have nuts in them. This book is perfect for beginner readers who just started reading chapter books.

★★★★ out of 5

Sophie Lyons, age 9



Travels in Cuba

By Marie-Louise Gay and David Homel

Groundwood, 128 pages, $16

This book is great. I like this book because you learn about different places in Cuba. My favourite part is when Lázaro shows Charlie a secret cave where there is an underground river and Charlie goes in the water and he can see a bunch of colourful fish. This book is funny when the family goes to school in Cuba and all the kids are supposed to draw family portraits and there are all types of ridiculous portraits. This book is great for readers that like to learn about different places.

★★★★ out of 5

Sophie Lyons, age 9



Like A Duck

By Deborah Kerbel

Scholastic Canada Ltd., 240 pages, $10

Like a Duck is a good book but not one I would strongly recommend reading. Some of its good factors are the book’s ability to introduce characters fast, but after that quick start it just sort of levels out to be a very simple book with a simple plot. The book is predictable and you can easily put it down. The book is good in a way where it is sometimes lighthearted and fun. It sometimes has emotional parts but presents them in a predictable manner.

★★★ out of 5

Timothy Bueckert, age 11




Harvey Comes Home

By Colleen Nelson, illustrated by Tara Anderson

Pajama Press, 224 pages, $16

When I read the first few chapters, I thought this was the typical dog-runs-away-and-makes-his-way-back-home, feel-good book. This book is special. It’s a story of unlikely friendships. An old man befriends a lonely boy and Harvey the dog. I enjoyed this book very much. I like it because of the many storylines and the depth of the story. I really did not find anything I disliked. I would recommend it to children and adults alike.

★★★★ out of 5

Brayden Peters, age 12



The Life and Deaths of Frankie D.

By Colleen Nelson

Dundurn Press, 256 pages, $15

Frankie is a goth teenage girl who lives with a foster mother and has no known past. She starts having strange dreams about a circus sideshow and a performer with the same rare skin condition as her. This book follows Frankie as she tries to find out what is real and what isn’t in her life, and learn more about her past.

I loved everything about this book. Frankie was a really interesting character to learn about, and some of her thoughts and feelings were very relatable. The events in this book were quite strange, but I loved it more for that. My favourite thing about this book is that I didn’t want to put it down. I was hooked at the beginning, and only became more so as I continued reading.

I would recommend The Life and Deaths of Frankie D. to anyone looking for a science-fiction type book that is exciting and full of strange events. This book is one of my new favourites, and I would definitely give it five stars.

★★★★★ out of 5

Megan MacDiarmid, age 12

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