Fostering curiosity in kids (and their parents) since 2011

My OcTBR Reading Challenge – Update

A collage of the books I planned to read in October, with the books I've read so far flagged. The next paragraph of the post lists them, so I won't list them here. No need to make you list to that twice.

I’m making progress! (Image: Shala Howell)

The more targeted approach to tackling my To-Read pile inspired by the good folks at The OcTBR Challenge has resulted in me reading a ton of great books this month. In today’s post, I’ll tell you about four of them.

NOTE: This post contains affiliate links to, an online bookstore that provides financial support to local, independent bookstores. At the time this post was published, has already raised $7.4m for local bookstores. If you use the links in this post to purchase a book or two on, I’ll earn a commission on your book purchase, as will your preferred independent bookshop. You can also find many of these books in the new Caterpickles Bookstore. Regardless of whether you use my links or visit the Caterpickles Bookstore, I’m glad you spent part of your day reading Caterpickles. Learn more about Affiliate Links, the Caterpickles Bookstore, and why I decided to become a Affiliate.

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Genre: Middle Grade Fiction

Publisher: Puffin Books

Year Published: 2020

Format: Audiobook

Source: Library

PGR: ☕️☕️☕️☕️☕️

Book Summary: Amal Unbound

“Twelve-year-old Amal’s dream of becoming a teacher one day is dashed in an instant when she accidentally insults a member of her Pakistani village’s ruling family. As punishment for her behavior, she is forced to leave her heartbroken family behind and go work at their estate.

“Amal is distraught but has faced setbacks before. So she summons her courage and begins navigating the complex rules of life as a servant, with all its attendant jealousies and pecking-order woes. Most troubling, though, is Amal’s increasing awareness of the deadly measures the Khan family will go to in order to stay in control. It’s clear that their hold over her village will never loosen as long as everyone is too afraid to challenge them–so if Amal is to have any chance of ensuring her loved ones’ safety and winning back her freedom, she must find a way to work with the other servants to make it happen.”

From the book description on

Pandemic Guest Rating (PGR): ☕️☕️☕️☕️☕️

Twelve-year-old Amal lives in a small largely agricultural community in Pakistan. When the son of a powerful local landlord, Jawab Sahid, runs over Amal in the street, she allows her anger to get the best of her. After a public altercation in which Amal flatly refuses to hand over the produce she has purchased for her own family, Jawab Sahid retaliates by abruptly calling in the debt Amal’s father owes Sahid’s family. When Amal’s father can’t pay, Amal is forced to go work in the Sahid home as an indentured servant.

Although at first glance, a middle grade novel that deals with issues of indentured servitude, class, and resistance in a small village in Pakistan seems like it must necessarily describe a completely different world from the one I inhabit as a white woman living in California, I found Amal Unbound to be a profoundly relatable story about hope, perseverance, and the importance of education for women around the world.

I highly recommend it.

Strange Birds by Celia C. Pérez

Genre: Middle Grade Fiction

Publisher: Kokila

Year Published: 2019

Format: ebook

Source: Purchase

PGR: ☕️☕️☕️☕️☕️

Book Summary: Strange Birds

From the award-winning author of The First Rule of Punk comes the story of four kids who form an alternative Scout troop that shakes up their sleepy Florida town.
“When three very different girls find a mysterious invitation to a lavish mansion, the promise of adventure and mischief is too intriguing to pass up. Ofelia Castillo (a budding journalist), Aster Douglas (a bookish foodie), and Cat Garcia (a rule-abiding birdwatcher) meet the kid behind the invite, Lane DiSanti, and it isn’t love at first sight. But they soon bond over a shared mission to get the Floras, their local Scouts, to ditch an outdated tradition. In their quest for justice, independence, and an unforgettable summer, the girls form their own troop and find something they didn’t know they needed: sisterhood.”

From the book description on

Pandemic Guest Rating (PGR): ☕️☕️☕️☕️☕️

Set in modern-day Miami, this book is just a joy to read. The relationships between the girls weren’t all smooth sailing, of course, because as at least two of the girls frankly admitted, they hadn’t had all that much practice with friendship. There’s plenty of humor to leaven out the emotionally difficult bits.

A great book for sparking conversations about allyship, friendship, and how kids can create positive social change within their communities.

More to the Story by Hena Khan

Genre: Middle Grade Fiction

Publisher: Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster Books for You

Year Published: 2019

Format: ebook

Source: Purchase

PGR: ☕️☕️☕️☕️☕️

Book Summary: More to the Story

From the critically acclaimed author of Amina’s Voice comes a new story inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s beloved classic, Little Women, featuring four sisters from a modern American Muslim family living in Georgia. When Jameela Mirza is picked to be feature editor of her middle school newspaper, she’s one step closer to being an award-winning journalist like her late grandfather. The problem is her editor-in-chief keeps shooting down her article ideas. Jameela’s assigned to write about the new boy in school, who has a cool British accent but doesn’t share much, and wonders how she’ll make his story gripping enough to enter into a national media contest. Jameela, along with her three sisters, is devastated when their father needs to take a job overseas, away from their cozy Georgia home for six months. Missing him makes Jameela determined to write an epic article–one to make her dad extra proud. But when her younger sister gets seriously ill, Jameela’s world turns upside down. And as her hunger for fame looks like it might cost her a blossoming friendship, Jameela questions what matters most, and whether she’s cut out to be a journalist at all…

From the book description on

Pandemic Guest Rating (PGR): ☕️☕️☕️☕️☕️

The author describes this text as a love letter to her favorite book: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. It’s a lovely and emotionally resonant story that draws on the parallels between cultural norms and expectations in modern Pakistani-American families and the lives of the March sisters in Alcott’s original 1868 text to explore several issues, including microaggressions, ethics in journalism, supporting a loved one through a severe illness, and coping with familial expectations that clash with society at large.

I adore this middle grade novel.

A Moose Boosh: A Few Choice Words About Food by Eric-Shabazz Larkin

Genre: Children’s Poetry

Publisher: Readers to Eaters

Year Published: 2014

Format: Paperback

Source: Purchase

PGR: ☕️☕️☕️☕️

Book Summary: A Moose Boosh

Where there is food, there will be laughter (and crumbs).
In more than 40 exuberant poems and ‘vandalized’ photographs, you’ll meet a city kid who fantasizes about farming on a stoop, a girl with crumpets and crèpes in her head, and a boy with a pet cabbage. ‘Doctor Food’ prescribes good food as medicine and ‘Dancing Kitchen’ will have you shimmying with your skillet. From the amuse-bouche to the very last pea on the plate, A Moose Boosh celebrates food–growing it, making it, slurping it and especially sharing it with loved ones at the dinner table. Bon appétit!”

From the book description on

Pandemic Guest Rating (PGR): ☕️☕️☕️☕️

If Shel Silverstein wrote a poetry book about food, it would read a lot like this one. Targeted to readers in Grade 3 and up, the poems in Eric-Shabazz Larkin’s A Moose Boosh tackle everything from getting up the courage to try new flavors to countering life in a food desert through the magic of container gardening.

A great book to jumpstart conversations on sustainable food production, urban food deserts, access to food, and related issues.

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