I’m gonna be completely honest. I find it really, really, really annoying when cats in books and movies are automatically “the bad guys”. Think about it: when reading books or watching shows, how often have you seen cats who were villains? Maybe you haven’t seen it all that often. If so, you’re very lucky! But I’ve read and seen far too many stories where cats are unfairly assumed to be evil. Real Pigeons, Cats vs. Dogs, Isle of Dogs, Lady and the Tramp…
If you’re going to remember anything from this review, let it be this: NOT ALL CATS ARE EVIL!
Cats can be kind, intelligent, and even heroic! And Sparks! by Ian Boothby (illustrated by Nina Matsumoto) shows us just how wonderful cats are. The two main characters are Charlie and August – kitties who have escaped an evil alien research laboratory and now live in their own comfy home. (Here’s a quick warning: there are some scenes in this book where there are sad animals in a laboratory being experimented on. There’s nothing too scary, and every animal there has a happy ending.)
Most cats in Charlie and August’s shoes would stay home and live comfortable lives. And that’s fine! But these two kitties are a bit different. You see, August is super intelligent – like, intelligent enough to create robots and make a rug that electrocutes intruders. Meanwhile, Charlie is uncommonly brave and wants to help the world. So, these wonderful felines decide to team up and become superheroes!
But here’s the thing. Remember how we were talking about how cats are usually seen as evil? That means that whenever Charlie or August tried to help, humans would immediately assume that they were the villains and chase them away. Even though they were treated so unfairly, the cats still want to help. So August decides to design a superhero costume that both she and Charlie can use: a robot suit in the shape of a dog!
Unlike cats, dogs are more well-liked by many people. Dogs are usually the heroes in stories, so humans are more likely to trust them. So, to help people, Charlie and August transform into Sparks, the crime-fighting, people-saving dog!
But ‘Sparks’ isn’t alone in their superhero duties. Charlie and August live with two other friends: a talking litter-box robot named Litter and a jokester squirrel named Steve-O. Litter talks to the reader a lot as the narrator of the story, so we get to talk to him often. He helps the kitties to set up their Sparks robot suit (“Canine Configuration Commence!”) and he loves dance parties!
In terms of characters, I think the one I rooted for the most is August. When she was a kitten, the first time she played in the grass was when she was abducted and taken to the evil laboratory. Since then, she has an intense phobia of grass. Even just touching grass reminds her of that horrible event. August’s main character arc (her mini-plot that helps her grow as a character by the end of the story) is to face her fear of grass. I found myself cheering for her all the way through the book!
August is also very funny, though she doesn’t mean to be. Here’s one of my favourite scenes that shows August’s unintentional humour:
Charlie and August are in the Sparks robot suit. They are being attacked by alligators.
Charlie: “Aaaaah! Crocodiles!”
August: “Alligators, actually.”
Charlie: “REALLY? You’re giving a biology lesson NOW?!”
August: “Facts ALWAYS matter!”]
Maybe I like August because she reminds me so much of Louise and Sakura, two of our fact-loving Bookitties!
So, what do the Bookitties think of Sparks? Alfie liked it when he realized it was a superhero comic book. Then he LOVED it when he actually read it and enjoyed the story! Jun really enjoyed it too; it was the perfect book to read while he was taking a break from homework.
I’ve always wanted to learn how to sew. I remember watching my mum in fascination as she used this huge sewing machine she brought from her home country. It always scared and fascinated me – the sharp needle going so fast you couldn’t even see it, the sounds of piercing fabric getting louder and louder…
It was because of this fear that I never learnt how to use a sewing machine growing up. What a shame! Because now that I’ve been learning to sew, I find myself wishing I started earlier! Imagine the clothes I could have made for myself…the scrunchies I could have made for my friends…
Oh well. Better late than never! My journey into sewing is what led me to the book I’m reviewing today: Sew It Yourself by Daisy Braid. I thought it’d be a simple book of sewing patterns, but thankfully it’s also a guide on sewing terms and how to sew.
Did you know that the sewing world has a lot of special words? I definitely didn’t! Thank goodness this book actually explains these words. Otherwise, I’d be completely lost and confused. Some terms you learn about in this book are:
Toile (pronounced ‘twahl’, since it’s a French word!)
Silk crepe de chine (another French word!)
There was another surprise in this book. Apparently, sewing requires maths. Lots of maths (or at least more than I was expecting!). If you want to sew things, you need to understand how to measure. You’ll find a lot of measurement formulas for the sewing patterns so that you know how much fabric to cut. For example, here’s the formula for cutting the fabric for a scrunchie:
Fabric = 12 cm (4 3/4 inches) x 60 cm (23 1/2 inches)
Elastic = 5 to 10 mm x length. (Length = circumference of your wrist + 2cm [3/4 inches] OR 20 to 22 cm (8 to 8 3/4 inches)
I know that might look like a lot to take in (I was pretty flabbergasted when I saw it!). Or maybe you’re more the mathematical type of person, and the formulas aren’t intimidating at all. Great! The thing is, reading these formulas and actually following them are completely different. Once you get your head around all those numbers, it’s surprisingly simple to follow. You basically just get a ruler or measuring tape, draw lines where the measurements in the formula are, then cut out the fabric. It becomes a lot less intimidating when you actually do it!
Now, the most important benefit about sewing has to do with the environment. Think of it this way: we buy and throw out cheap, weak clothes so often that we create a lot of trash. Plus, the workers who make cheap and weak clothes (‘fast fashion‘) often face horrible working conditions, with extremely low wages and dangerous work environments. Wouldn’t it be better for everyone – the workers, the shops, and the people who buy the clothes – to support fashion that’s made ethically? That means making sure the factory workers are treated fairly and the clothes we buy are made to last. By doing this, we also save the environment from unnecessary trash.
One way to be more sustainable is to sew your own clothes! You can either buy your own fabric or even work on old clothes that might not fit you anymore. That’s why it’s so important to know how to sew!
So far, I’ve made a scrunchie and a bag. Don’t tell my friend, but I’m making another tote bag for her birthday! When I’m feeling more confident, I’m totally going to create a Sophie Trapezoid Skirt and a Rectangle-Sleeve Jacket. The instructions in Sew It Yourself are fairly easy to follow, especially if you read the first section (the one that explains all those sewing terms and techniques). In a year from now, when I look at all the clothes and gifts I’ve made, I’ll have Daisy Braid to thank!
There’s a lot to research about sewing and Sew It Yourself provides a lot of that information. So, Sakura is very fond of this book! Gus loves it too – like me, he has always wanted to learn how to sew.
Keywords: fiction, Year 5+, fantasy, magic, tea, witchcraft, funny, mysterious.
What do you think of when you hear the word ‘tea‘?
For me, I think of boiling kettles, spoonfuls of sugar, and steam wafting from a mug. I have at least two cups of tea every day – sometimes with a cookie, sometimes just on its own. Not everyone likes tea, of course. But regardless of your opinion, you will end up loving tea by the time you finish reading Yesterday Crumb and the Storm in a Teacup by Andy Sagar.
Yesterday Crumb is a fantasy with witches and magic, but it is also a love letter to tea and its power to heal. A girl named Yesterday (or ‘Essie’) learns how to become a tea witch from Miss Dumpling – a tea witch with her own travelling teashop. Throughout the story, tea has a huge role. It’s like tea in the real world, but with one tiny insignificant difference: the tea Yesterday and Miss Dumpling make…is magical. As in, literally, it’s made with magic and can give you magical powers.
If you drink tea like Miss Dumpling’s ‘Chamomile of Confidence’, you suddenly become more confident in yourself. Another wonderful tea is ‘Jumbling Jasmine’, which gives you the temporary ability to change into any animal you’d like! My favourite part of the tea in this book is that sometimes, you get to see the recipe. It’s fun to read them and see which ingredients seem normal, and which ingredients seem…a bit strange. For example, here’s the recipe for Jumbling Jasmine:
One tsp ground cinderspice
One tsp finely chopped toothweed
A pinch of jasmine petals
One teapot’s worth of unicorn milk (boiled, preferably by tea spirit, salamander, or dragon)
Optional: pickled starlight, to extend the magic’s longevity.
Interesting ingredients, right? It’s hard to choose a favourite part, but I absolutely love how the unicorn milk needs to be boiled by a tea spirit. You see, tea spirits are really, really cute. Don’t believe me? Look at this little fella!
Isn’t he adorable!? His name is Pascal and I love him with all of my heart! Best character in the whole book, 10/10. He boils water and other liquids for Yesterday’s teas. He’s a little guy who just wants to make tea! Who wouldn’t love him?
There are other wonderful characters, of course. Like Yesterday, Jack is a strangeling (a magical child who was left in the human world for too long). He lives and works in the teashop with Miss Dumpling. An inventor, he loves to create new kinds of candies. One candy he’s working on is the ‘Marshmellow of Memory’. When you eat it, you can see a very vivid memory! Oh, and did I mention that Jack has a wolf’s snout? This is because strangelings grow animal parts when they’re left in the human world. Jack has a wolf’s snout, while Yesterday has fox ears. Yesterday actually doesn’t like her fox ears very much (because of them, she was trapped in a circus as a freakshow performer for most of her life). It’s a shame she doesn’t like them, though. I’d love to have fox ears! If you could have an animal part, what would you have? (I’d like some cat whiskers!)
One thing I would love to see in this book is more illustrations. I’d love to see drawings of not only Yesterday, but Miss Dumpling, Jack, Madrigal – everyone! I suppose a benefit of having little to no illustrations is that you’re free to picture the characters however you want. You’re told in the story what they look like, sure, but we all have very different imaginations; so even if readers are given the same information, they can come up with wildly different ideas of what characters look like!
Here’s a little activity: since there aren’t any illustrations of Miss Dumpling – Yesterday’s mentor tea witch – try to draw what you think she looks like based on what the narration tells us.
A lady stepped out, wreathed in the aromas of cinnamon and gingerbread. She wore a dress like woven candyfloss. Her butterscotch-blonde hair tumbled from beneath a pointed hat around her rosy pink cheeks. Her eyes were the colour of lavender.
Yesterday Crumb and the Storm in a Teacup, page 1.
Here’s what I drew based on that information:
Is my illustration similar to what you pictured? Or did you think she looked completely different? The best part of this activity is that there’s no ‘correct’ answer. One of our rights as readers is to be able to picture the characters anyway we want! Do share any drawings you create of Miss Dumpling, as I would love to see everyone’s different ideas!
So, because this book is truly magical and creative, I sincerely enjoyed it! I actually borrowed from a library to read this, but I love it so much that I’m going to buy my own personal copy. Hopefully, there will be more Yesterday Crumb books soon. I just have to see what happens next and – of course – what other kinds of tea there are!
It’s a fantasy book, so Felipe obviously loved Yesterday Crumb and the Storm in a Teacup. Millie actually loved it too! She enjoyed trying to figure out the various mysteries in the plot and trying to figure out what the characters will do next.
The Bookitties came up with some fun activities you could do…
Draw a picture of Miss Dumpling based on the paragraph in this review. What does she look like? How is she similar or different to the drawing in the review?
Create your own type of magical tea. What power would it give you? What mystical ingredients would it need?
If you could replace one of your body parts with an animal’s, what would you choose and why?