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Joshua Whiting

digital librarianish person, writer, creator


CLAU/Beehive Update 2019.02.18

I’m chairing the Children’s Fiction Committee for the Beehive Book Awards. Our committee recently finalized the list of nominees for the 2020 awards, and I’m preparing to announce and booktalk those nominees, along with some of my colleagues from the Children’s Literature Association of Utah, during a breakout session of the Utah Educational Library Media Association Conference on March 8.

(I also just remembered I probably need to let the authors know their books made it on the list.) During the 2019-2020 school year kids and teens throughout Utah will vote for their favorites from the nominee list.

Posted: 2019.02.23

Book Review - Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

I published a review of Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling on Granite Media and also posted it on Goodreads.

Cover Image - Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

When her dad randomly takes a job as manager of an old west theme park, Aven Green has to move to the Arizona desert for the start of 8th grade. Her armlessness was never a big deal with her friends in Kansas, where she had gone to school with the same group from kindergarten on up. Now at a new large school where she doesn’t know anyone, Aven is self-conscious and the kids she encounters aren’t exactly welcoming or friendly. Can she overcome her fear, make connections with people, and follow her interests and talents, or at least stop eating lunch in the bathroom? And can she uncover the mystery of the absentee owner of the quirky theme park, to which she feels a strange growing connection?

Told in an authentic, hilarious first person voice, this book is filled with life and heart. The author does a great job of showing Aven and other characters as authentic, growing people, making mistakes and learning throughout the book. It provides an empathetic and informative depiction of characters with differing abilities, helping readers understand the real challenges caused by specific disabilities as well as how little those challenges can actually limit a determined and supported person from following their interests and talents to accomplish great things. As an adult reader the story opened my eyes to ways I could improve my interactions with people of differing abilities and be a more considerate support. These are things I wish I had learned at a much younger age so I feel this could be an important book for young people to read. It’s an extremely engaging, easy read that kids will want to pick up anyway. Highly recommended for young people as well as teachers and parents of young people.

• This book has a similar vibe to Wonder, but is lighter and funnier, without a central bully-villain. It’s a very accessible realistic/contemporary fiction story.
• Could be a good next step for fans of humorous diary books like Wimpy Kid or Dork Diaries. It doesn’t have illustrations but it is told in first person and it includes funny entries from the character’s blog.
• The quirky theme park mystery element has a similar vibe to small town stories by authors such as Sheila Turnage and Natalie Lloyd.

Review by Joshua Whiting, Media Specialist, Granite Educational Technology Department
Rating: ★★★★½ (4.5 stars)
Interest Level: Grades 4-8

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus
Written by Dusti Bowling
Sterling Children’s Books
262 pages
Release Date: September 5, 2017

Tags: 2017 Children’s Fiction, Arizona Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Desert Fiction, Dusti Bowling, Humorous Fiction, Joshua Whiting, Mystery Fiction, Persons with Disabilities Fiction, Realistic Fiction

Posted: 2019.02.11

Book Review - Nightbooks

I published a review of Nightbooks by J.A. White on Granite Media and also posted it on Goodreads.

Cover Image - Nightbooks

Alex has an obsession with all things creepy, and he spends his nights writing scary stories. One night he decides he’s tired of being a “weirdo,” so he sneaks out of his family’s apartment with his story notebooks and heads to the basement to burn them in the building’s boiler. The elevator takes him to a different floor instead, where he is illogically lured into a strange apartment and soon finds himself trapped in an actual scary story, enslaved by an actual witch. It turns out the witch needs his stories to keep the enchanted apartment under control, and although he wants to find a way to escape there is a part of him that enjoys the dark, magical surroundings and the appreciative new audience for his tales. Can he keep creating new horror stories to keep the witch happy, or can he figure out a way to use his storytelling as his means of escape?

This isn’t the creepiest middle grade fiction book I’ve ever read, but with its dark fairy tale elements it brings just the right amount of horror, tinged with hope and humor, for young readers. I loved how this book not only spun a good tale but made me think about the power of storytelling, and, quite simply, made me want to write things. I think young readers will recognize and engage with these themes of storytelling, writing, and being true to one’s interests and talents as well. The story also explores friendship/relationship-building rather well, as Alex and Yasmin (another child enslaved by the witch) learn to trust, help, and open up to each other despite the very real possibility of getting separated or hurt by the manipulations of the witch.

This novel would be a perfect next step for fans of scary story collections. The text does an excellent job of integrating many such scary stories, written by Alex, into the larger narrative framework. I especially liked the inclusion of fully-readable pages from books in the witch’s library, complete with secret handwritten notes in the margins. It is a low-key metafictional touch that isn’t too gimmicky and does subtle wonders for the setting, making the witch’s vast library of scary stories seem tangible. They are teasers for a whole world of other books to explore.

Highly recommended for budding writers (which ideally would be any young person) and fans of scary stories and fairy tales, whether fractured, Disneyfied, or traditionally dark. It could make a good read-alike for Neil Gaiman’s middle grade books, Adam Gidwitz’ A Tale Dark and Grimm series, Frank Cole’s Potion Masters series, and for those who enjoy the creepier aspects of Harry Potter. It would be a great step towards more literary/Newbery-ish dark fantasy books such as The Girl Who Drank the Moon, Splendors and Glooms, or Jonathan Auxier, as it has similar moods and themes but reads slightly easier and younger than those books.

Review by Joshua Whiting, Media Specialist, Granite Educational Technology Department
Rating: ★★★★½ (4.5 stars)
Interest Level: Grades 4-7

Written by J.A. White
Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers
294 pages
Release Date: July 24, 2018

Tags: 2018 Children’s Fiction, Books Fiction, Fairy Tales Fiction, Fantasy Fiction, Fractured Fairy Tales, Friendship Fiction, Horror Fiction, Joshua Whiting, New York City Fiction, Storytelling Fiction, Witches Fiction, Writing Fiction

Posted: 2019.02.11

Copyright 2019 Joshua David Whiting. Made in Millcreek, Utah, USA. Contact me.