#kidlit Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus Tackles Prickly Topics

Author Dusti Bowling is currently the Writer in Residence at Tempe Library. So, of course I had to read her most recent middle-grade novel, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus. I’m so glad I did!

Thirteen-year-old Aven Green was born without arms, but her parents have always encouraged her to be independent and have a can-do attitude. It was no problem in her old school in Kansas where she had many good friends. When her family moves to Arizona, however, she has trouble being accepted. That is until she meets Connor, who has Tourette’s and can relate to being treated as an outsider. Together they investigate the strange events going on at Stagecoach Pass, the has-been theme park where Aven’s parents work.

Sprinkled throughout the text are blog posts Aven writes to keep in touch with her former friends. The posts are funny and poignant, plus reveal the main character’s innermost thoughts and feelings in a way that is organic and not contrived. For example, her list of the twenty worst things about not having arms in Chapter 30 is packed with self-effacing humor and honesty. It encapsulates her frustration at not being able to help her friend in the way she would like.

Aven Green is an amazing character. The way Dusti Bowling describes her life is so sensitive and at the same time so realistic. It’s no wonder that the awards and starred reviews are piling up, including a 2017 middle-grade fiction finalist in my favorite contest, Cybils.

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus successfully tackles some pretty prickly topics. It is a wonderful choice for lovers of middle grade fiction of all ages.

Age Range: 8 – 12 years
Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Sterling Children’s Books (September 5, 2017)
ISBN-10: 1454923458
ISBN-13: 978-1454923459

Looking for more children’s books set in Arizona? See our growing list at Reading Through the States.

#kidlit Stellar Writing: Beyond the Bright Sea

Have you discovered Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk yet?

The writing in this novel is so beautiful it makes your eyes tear up. While you are reading, you want to soak the words into your skin.

You know it is going to be special from the first page.

My name is Crow.
When I was a baby, someone tucked me into an old boat and pushed me out to sea.
I washed up on a tiny island, like a seed riding on the tide.
It was Osh who found me and took me in. Who taught me how to put down roots, and thrive on both sun and rain, and understand what it is to bloom.

Along with the gorgeous writing comes a compelling story full of mystery and questions. Where did Crow come from? Why did her parents send her adrift in the sea? Why do Osh and Miss Maggie live like they do?

The setting features real life Penikese Island, which is part of the Elizabeth Islands chain off the coast of Massachusetts. It is cold, desolate, and powerful. The island actually did have a hospital for people with leprosy, as discussed in the story.

Public Domain NOAA Map of Elizabeth Islands from Wikimedia.

This novel is wonderful. If you are interested in children’s literature, Beyond the Bright Sea is a must read and, for many, a must have.

For more about the book, try another review at Fuse#8

Looking for children’s books set in Massachusetts?  Visit Reading Through the States.


Age Range: 10 and up
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers (May 2, 2017)
ISBN-10: 1101994851
ISBN-13: 978-1101994856

Oops-A-Daisy by Melody Delgado #ReadYourWorld #Kidlit

Today we have a fun new middle grade book that fits the multicultural theme:  Oops-A-Daisy (The De La Cruz Diaries Book 1) by Melody Delgado.


Daisy De la Cruz is a twelve-year-old aspiring singer and actress. She has won a few parts for commercials on television, but she always is stuck wearing a full costume. Will she ever get to show her face?

Some parts of this book a hilarious. For example, Daisy’s thoughts when she isn’t given much of a break during taping of a commercial:

When I’m heading up my own studio the actors won’t get a measly little five-minute break. No way! I’ll give them at least six.

Fiction is supposed to show readers how to deal with real life issues and this novel does a good job of tackling some age-appropriate problems. For example, the middle school years can be fraught with landmines when it comes to friendships. Delgado shows how friends can change and how to deal with those changes in a positive way.

Another issue that kids run into is not getting the part they wanted, whether it is auditioning for a play, a commercial, or trying out for a sports team. Daisy experiences some disappointments and set backs, but she stays positive and keeps trying. That kind of persistence can make all the difference for achieving success in the future.

Let’s not forget the multicultural aspects of the book. Set in Florida, Daisy’s grandfather is from Puerto Rico and the family speaks some Spanish. The back matter has a glossary of the Spanish words and phrases used. This book would be a good fit for Multicultural Children’s Book Day (see info below).

Oops-A-Daisy is a fun, wholesome book with a lot of good messages to offer middle grade readers. It is perfect not only for budding singers or actors, but also for anyone who has struggled with friendships. Check out a copy today.

Age Range: 7 – 12 years
Publisher: Clean Reads (October 3, 2017)
ISBN-10: 162135699X
ISBN-13: 978-1621356998

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2018 (1/27/18) is its fifth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness on the ongoing need to include kid’s books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.

Disclosure: This book was provided for review purposes. I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

#Cybils: Four Chick(en) Lit Books for Kids

Chickens are fascinating animals and with the resurgence of interest in keeping them, more children have or know someone who has a few chickens. Having spent last week watching my niece’s and nephew’s hilarious home videos of farmyard chickens walking backwards (don’t ask), I just knew I had to share some children’s books about these engaging birds.


Our first book is A Chicken Followed Me Home!: Questions and Answers about a Familiar Fowl by Robin Page, which was nominated for a 2015 Cybils award in the Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction category.

Written in a lively question-and-answer format, the text explains such basics as what a chicken eats, how to tell a hen from a rooster, how a chick gets out of its shell, etc. The framing story of a chicken following someone home adds imagination and some light humor.

The back matter contains two pages of even more pertinent questions about chickens, including where did the first chicken come from, how fast can a chicken run, and what is the largest breed of chicken. Do you know the answers?

Robin Page did the colorful, highly-textured illustrations digitally. They have a collage feel reminiscent of those done by her children’s book illustrator husband, Steve Jenkins.

A Chicken Followed Me Home would be useful for a child learning about their first chicken or one writing a report about chickens. It also just might encourage someone to try keeping a few chickens of their own.

Age Range: 5 – 10 years
Publisher: Beach Lane Books (May 19, 2015)
ISBN-10: 1481410288
ISBN-13: 978-1481410281


When I was a child, our youth group used to visit the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine open house each spring (highly recommended if you live nearby!) Our favorite was always the chicken development exhibit because it featured chicks hatching. The new chicks were so lively and adorable, you could spend hours watching them.

When your children are ready to learn more about the “birds and the bees,” learning about chicken reproduction and development can be a reasonable first step. Following are two books that take a scientific approach and include diagrams of a hen’s reproductive tract.

The Egg by Rene Mettler is part of the My First Discoveries series known for its innovative layered see-through and lift-a-page illustrations.

In this case, children get a close up inside look at both a egg inside a hen and what happens inside an egg as a chick develops. Most of the book is devoted to chickens, but other animals that lay eggs are also mentioned in the back. Finally, it asks what kinds of eggs you like to eat and shows eggs as food, including as a humorous touch, a chocolate Easter egg.

Although marketed for preschoolers, the book would also be appropriate for older children eager to learn about the topic.

Age Range: 3 – 5 years
Publisher: Moonlight Publishing; Expanded edition (August 1, 2012)
ISBN-10: 1851033807
ISBN-13: 978-1851033805

Where Do Chicks Come From? by Amy E. Sklansky and illustrated by Pam Paparone is part of the quality series Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science.

where do chicks come from?Marketed for a slightly older age range, this book covers the same material as the one above, but with more traditional illustrations. It reveals the life cycle of the chicken in an organized, logical way.

Is your child ready for vocabulary words like “albumen” and “fertilization”? Where Do Chicks Come From? is an “eggsceptional” choice for curious young readers!

Age Range: 4 – 8 years
Publisher: HarperCollins (February 1, 2005)
ISBN-10: 9780064452120
ISBN-13: 978-0064452120

Middle Grade Fiction

How did a middle grade fiction book end up on a list for Nonfiction Monday? It turns out this imaginative work also slips in a lot of facts about chickens.

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones and illustrated by Katie Kath is an imaginative and surprising story told in letters (an epistolary novel).

Sophie Brown and her family have just moved to her Great-Uncle Jim’s farm after his death. Her dad has lost his job and her mom is struggling to support the family by writing articles. Sophie has her own problems feeling isolated in this new place and starts writing letters to her deceased grandmother, as well as others, as a way of coping. Now, if she could just figure out the mystery of the chickens, who seem to have superpowers.

Writing a novel as a series of letters poses certain challenges and it requires the reader do a certain amount of filling in of gaps. Many readers are likely to enjoy the extra work and appreciate the humorous bits, but others might be put off by the changes in tone and general quirkiness. Serious nonfiction types might want to skim to the “Beginner’s Correspondence Course in Proper Care and Housing of Poultry:  Chicken Edition” lesson sections, as well as the sidebars about the different breeds of chickens.

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer is an unusual book. For the right reader, it will be a treasure.

Age Range: 8 – 12 years
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (May 12, 2015)
ISBN-10: 038575552X
ISBN-13: 978-0385755528

Question whether kids and chickens are a good fit? Check out this charming video of a young girl interacting with her pet chickens.

Disclosure:  These books were either personal copies or came from the library. I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.


Looking for more children’s nonfiction books? Try the Nonfiction Monday blog.