Middle Grade Book Review: The Tale of a No-Name Squirrel by Radhika R. Dhariwal

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Middle Grade Book Review: The Tale of a No-Name Squirrel by Radhika R. DhariwalThe Tale of a No-Name Squirrel by Radhika R. Dhariwal
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on April 5th 2016
Genres: Adventure, Animals, Middle Grade
Pages: 384

Solve riddles with Squirrel as he travels to the walled city of bees, the fireless tea plantation of mice, and treacherous desert full of tricksters in this beautifully written and creative debut adventure.
Squirrel never expected to be anything other than a slave: the last animal slave in Bimmau. That is, until he is invited to a high profile wedding and takes a sip of the forbidden ceremonial wine, unlocking a mysterious riddle. The riddle reveals that there is a key which has the power to grant Squirrel his freedom (and a name!), but also could enslave anyone in Bimmau. Disastrous if it falls into the wrong hands! Squirrel and his friends find themselves in a race to find Brittle’s Key before the army of crows gets to him…and before the mysterious Colonel finds the key first.

Squirrel is the last slave in Bimmau under an overbearing taskmaster. He has no name and no power. Everything changes though when Squirrel receives an invitation to a fancy wedding. While at the feast Squirrel drinks from the ceremonial wine and unlocks a riddle in his mind that sets him off on a quest to find his name and hopefully secure his freedom. His new found memories riddles him with challenges he must solve and various mysteries he must unearth, of which the powerful Brittle’s Key seems to the biggest. I enjoyed the world building in this book and reading about all the places Squirrel passed through on his journey. Squirrel encounters a town full of thieves and gamblers, there was also a town where the water supply is guarded by camel guards and one where mice grow tea. Squirrel is not alone in his journey either he has the companionship of a canine named Des and some other allies. The one Squirrel is the most suspicious about is Azulfa, the crow who always everywhere along his journey.

There are a few things I did not like, such as the overly drawn out and detailed descriptions of foods being eaten (mainly because it’s a bit disturbing to see these animals who are supposedly all intelligent, talking beings eating each other…i.e. the scene where they eat lamb…would this not be murder? Or even a type of cannibalism?). Between the gruesome cat on cat murder scene in the beginning of the book, the obvious classism of the Pedipurr Dogs/Cats and the villain who seeks to re-establish slavery you can not ignore that there are some very deep and dark themes/scenes in this book. Which is why sometimes the writing though beautiful and descriptive seems a bit “juvenile” in much of this book (though I understand that it is aimed at Middle Grader readers).

I did like that the story ultimately at its core (once you get past the darker elements and the politics of the animals) is about finding the truth about who you are and friendship. Clearly not meant for every reader out there, but I would recommend this book to strong readers who enjoy chapter books, solving puzzles, riddles, mysteries and animal adventure stories (the crossword puzzle at the end of the book is a nice touch). Thank you to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for the opportunity to read this book in return for my honest review.


Middle Grade Graphic Novel ARC Review: Science Comics: Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean by Maris Wicks

Middle Grade Graphic Novel ARC Review: Science Comics: Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean by Maris WicksScience Comics: Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean by Maris Wicks
Published by First Second on March 29th 2016
Genres: Graphic Novel, Middle Grade, Nonfiction, Science
Pages: 128
Buy on Amazon

Every volume of Science Comics offers a complete introduction to a particular topic--dinosaurs, coral reefs, the solar system, volcanoes, bats, flying machines, and more. These gorgeously illustrated graphic novels offer wildly entertaining views of their subjects. Whether you're a fourth grader doing a natural science unit at school or a thirty-year-old with a secret passion for airplanes, these books are for you!
This volume: in Coral Reefs, we learn all about these tiny, adorable sea animals! This absorbing look at ocean science covers the biology of coral reefs as well as their ecological importance. Nonfiction comics genius Maris Wicks brings to bear her signature combination of hardcore cuteness and in-depth science.


First Second is an imprint company under Macmillan. They just celebrated their ten-year publishing anniversary in March and released the first volumes of their new series Science Comics. Have your every thought that a graphic novel could be both entertaining and educational? They definitely can be, and Science Comics proves this with their new and brightly illustrated graphic novels series. I volunteered to participate in the blog tour for one of their first volumes Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean written and illustrated by Maris Wicks and I was blown away with how much I learned from it, but also laughed and giggled too. I loved that the author took into account the importance of keeping her younger readers entertained while actually teaching them valuable facts.

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Throughout Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean we have an adorable tiny fish guide (a yellow-prawn goby to be exact). This friendly and perky eyeglass wearing little fish is bursting with information to share with us, and together we embark on a colorful exploration of the Coral Reef. There are five chapters: What is Coral?, How and Where Coral Reefs Are Formed, The Coral Reef Ecosystem Explored!, How are Coral Reefs Connected To The Rest of The Planet? And Little Reefs, Big Plant Challenges, Changes and Taking Charge! We learn all sorts of interesting facts throughout the comic, like how coral belongs to a large group of animals called invertebrates…and YES! Coral is an ANIMAL, not a plant! We also learn about the special symbiotic relationship coral has with microscopic algae named Zooxanthellae, which actually is responsible for the vivid colors of the coral. Cool right?

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The pages of this comic are filled with awesome facts like these, and though it is technically “teaching” us something, it feels relaxed and fun. I remember what it was like being in school and having to remember facts from boring textbooks, it was tedious. This is why these Science Comics are fabulous, they make learning happen naturally and with a fun aspect that most kids would not see as a chore. I also loved all the bold colors, and the various detailed charts and drawings illustrating the life cycles of the coral, the difference between coral species etc. I am a visual learner and it was nice to actually see these drawings and not just read about them.

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I think it was great that the topic of  humans impact on the coral reefs and ocean were also addressed in this comic. It is a call to action to take note of the harmful effects of climate change and pollution have on the ocean, and on the coral. As humans, we depend so much on the ocean for not just food (all those yummy fish) but also did you know that “for every 10 breaths we take seven of them are thanks to the ocean?” In this part of the comic helpful suggestions are given to the reader of how they can help cut down on the harmful effects of climate change and pollution. I think this was really done well. It gives the reader a feeling of purpose and that they can make a change/make things better, and I think it’s a lovely way to teach children about having a cause to believe in and how they can make a difference.

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Before the comic comes to a close our little guide addresses all the amazing discoveries we humans have been able to make in healthcare, ocean exploration, even better swimsuits, and cars because of coral and many of the ocean’s inhabitants. Our new fishy friend ends with a heartfelt goodbye (along with some of the other cute characters from the comic too) and we are left with a few more tidbits of information: a glossary, detailed drawings of the inside of coral polyp, a bibliography and a list of other additional resources both online and in print.

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I was super impressed with how much I enjoyed reading Coral Reef: Cities of the Ocean. It was beautifully illustrated, it was fun to read and I was surprised by how much new information I learned from a middle-grade book. The author Marius Wicks does a fantastic job engaging her reader with not only just facts but also with humor and dazzling bright illustrations (I loved all the cute little fishes and sea creatures). I think this is a great resource to use by teachers, students, parents and all those who wish to learn more about the coral reef, the ocean and all the treasures it holds. I wish it could have been around when I was a kid, it definitely would have made learning more entertaining.

About the Author

Maris Wicks is a writer and illustrator of science comics, as well as a self-proclaimed gigantic nerd. She has written, drawn, and colored comics for First Second Books, New England Aquarium and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, as well as Spongebob Comics, Marvel Comics, and DC Comics. Wicks is the illustrator of The New York Times Bestselling book Primates (2013), written by Jim Ottaviani. Her latest graphic novel, Human Body Theater (2015), is a 240-page rollicking romp through the major systems of the human body (told in comics format, of course). Her next book, Coral Reefs, debuts March 29, 2016. Wicks also has an ongoing collaboration with science communicator/comic artist Rosemary Mosco to bring you Your Wild City, a weekly webcomic about urban ecology.

>When she is not busy making comics, Wicks can be found prepping slides for her collection of vintage microscopes, traveling, scuba diving, hiking, and baking cookies (though never all of those things all at once). She was a part-time program educator at the New England Aquarium for eight years, teaching kids about how awesome marine science is. Now, her work in science education and outreach continues into her comics work: Wicks will be doing scientific outreach for Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution onboard the R/V Atlantis for an upcoming expedition in March/April 2016.

 Follow Maris’s adventures on Twitter , Tumblr and Instagram.

Special Thanks

Nori of readwritelove28.com  and Gina Gagliano from Macmillan for the opportunity to participate in this book tour as well as my very own copy of Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean (in return for an honest review).


You can check out the other blogs participating on the tour here:


Name Blog/Website/Library/School/Etc Date of Post (April)
Lizzi xbelleofthebooks.com 11
Briana Pages Unbound (http://pagesunbound.wordpress.com) 12
Stephanie Torina http://readingwithcupcakes.blogspot.com/ 13
Margie http://bumblesandfairytales.blogspot.com 14
Kristine Hall http://kristinehallways.blogspot.com 15
Jessica Harker http://spinesandcovers.com/ 18
Tanya bookishbabes.wordpress.com 19
Kaitlyn H No blog but Twitter.com/achubbybookworm 20
Marcilia Loubach www.theplotbunny.com 21
Mia Swartz Www.Mandemread.blogspot.com 22
Cody Roecker www.roeckerreviews.blogspot.com 25
Heather DeFilippis http://hermitlibrarian.blogspot.com 26
Amber Mann http://bookstacksamber.wordpress.com 27
Sierra Davenport sdavreads.wordpress.com 28
Martika www.fangirlavue.blogspot.com 29