Fostering curiosity in kids (and their parents) since 2011

What I’ve been reading in between bouts of doom-scrolling the news

Books this month include Allies by Alan Gratz; Thin Wood Walls by David Patneaude; Trickster: Native American Tales, a Graphic Collection by Matt Dembicki; and Terrible Lizards by Dr. David Hone and Iszi Lawrence. Ok, so that last one is really a podcast, but they did their questions episode this week, and they answered a question I submitted to them, so that was pretty cool.

The world is a bit of a dumpster fire today, so let’s distract ourselves by talking about books, shall we?

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 $7.7m 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.

Allies by Alan Gratz

Black and white image from WWII of soldiers landing on the beach at Normandy. Title in bright red capital letters.

Genre: Middle Grade Fiction

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Year Published: 2019

Format: ebook

Source: Purchase

My Rating: ☕️☕️☕️☕️☕️

Book Summary: Allies

“Alan Gratz, bestselling author of Refugee, weaves a stunning array of voices and stories into an epic tale of teamwork in the face of tyranny — and how just one day can change the world.

June 6, 1944: The Nazis are terrorizing Europe, on their evil quest to conquer the world. The only way to stop them? The biggest, most top-secret operation ever, with the Allied nations coming together to storm German-occupied France.

“Welcome to D-Day.

“Dee, a young U.S. soldier, is on a boat racing toward the French coast. And Dee — along with his brothers-in-arms — is terrified. He feels the weight of World War II on his shoulders.

“But Dee is not alone. Behind enemy lines in France, a girl named Samira works as a spy, trying to sabotage the German army. Meanwhile, paratrooper James leaps from his plane to join a daring midnight raid. And in the thick of battle, Henry, a medic, searches for lives to save.

“In a breathtaking race against time, they all must fight to complete their high-stakes missions. But with betrayals and deadly risks at every turn, can the Allies do what it takes to win?”

From the book description on

My Review: ☕️☕️☕️☕️☕️

Alan Gratz’s novels fly off the shelves at the middle school library where I volunteer, and after reading Allies, I can see why.

Much of the book follows Dee, a German immigrant to America turned U.S. soldier, whose family failed to notice the Nazi rising in Germany until it was too late to do anything but flee. Dee has volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army in an attempt to help put right what his family failed to stop at home. Dee’s storyline has a particular resonance for us now, as does the tale of Henry, a black medic who must overcome discrimination in both small and large ways just to give his fellow soldiers the life-saving care they need.

Gratz changes the timing of several events in his book, a fact readers will miss unless they read the Author’s Note at the end of the book. Still, I highly recommend it due to themes such as the rise of fascism, civil rights, and discrimination that are so relevant to our experiences today.

Trickster: Native American Tales, A Graphic Collection edited by Matt Dembicki

Genre: Middle Grade Graphic Novel

Publisher: Fulcrum Publishing

Year Published: 2010

Format: Paperback

Source: Purchase

My Rating: ☕️☕️☕️☕️☕️

Book Summary: Trickster

2010 Maverick Award winner, 2011 Aesop Prize Winner – Children’s folklore section, and a 2011 Eisner Award Nominee.
All cultures have tales of the trickster – a crafty creature or being who uses cunning to get food, steal precious possessions, or simply cause mischief. He disrupts the order of things, often humiliating others and sometimes himself. In Native American traditions, the trickster takes many forms, from coyote or rabbit to raccoon or raven. The first graphic anthology of Native American trickster tales, Trickster brings together Native American folklore and the world of comics. In Trickster, 24 Native storytellers were paired with 24 comic artists, telling cultural tales from across America. Ranging from serious and dramatic to funny and sometimes downright fiendish, these tales bring tricksters back into popular culture.”

From the book description on

My Review: ☕️☕️☕️☕️☕️

There was nothing difficult about reading this book. Each tale is a delightfully illustrated story of devious trickery. Beautifully drawn in a range of styles from the serious to the seriously silly, Trickster is a wonderful companion for a bleak day when you could use a bit of cheering up.

Thin Wood Walls by David Patneaude

Genre: Middle Grade Fiction

Publisher: Houghton Miflin

Year Published: 2008

Format: ebook

Source: Purchase

My Rating: ☕️☕️☕️☕️☕️

Book Summary: Thin Wood Walls

“Eleven-year-old Joe Hanada likes playing basketball with his best friend, Ray, writing plays and stories, and thinking about the upcoming Christmas holiday. But his world falls apart when Japanese planes bomb Pearl Harbor. His country goes to war. The FBI takes his father away. And neighbors and friends in his hometown near Seattle begin to suspect Joe, his family, and all Japanese Americans of spying for the enemy.

“When the government orders people of Japanese heritage living on the West Coast to move to internment camps, Joe turns to the journal his father gave him to record his thoughts and feelings. Writing journal entries and haiku poetry offers some relief as Joe struggles to endure life in Tule Lake War Relocation Camp—days filled with boredom, concern for his father, and worry for his brother, who joins the American army to prove the bravery and loyalty of Japanese American citizens. Thin Wood Walls is a powerful story of a boy who grows up quickly in a changed world.”

From the book description on Goodreads

My Review: ☕️☕️☕️☕️☕️

This is one of those middle grade books that doesn’t shy away from making you cry. Based on a series of stories a friend’s family told Patneaude about their internment on the West Coast during World War II, this book had me questioning why this bit of U.S. history wasn’t featured more prominently in my middle school history classes, and worse, if we are capable of doing this sort of thing again. A deeply moving story that pairs an unflinching look at prejudice with enough humor and optimism to see readers through.

Terrible Lizards with Dr. David Hone and Iszi Lawrence

Genre: Podcast

Date: November 4, 2020

Source: Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcast, etc.

My Review: ☕️☕️☕️☕️☕️

Episode Description: Terrible Lizards, Series 2, Episode 8

“It’s the end of series questions episode. This time Iszi and Dave… well Dave mainly answer Patrons’ Dinosaur questions. Including How would dinosaur evolution panned out if the asteroid had missed? Could sauropods swim? Is the Blue Whale REALLY larger than dinosaurs? Were there dinosaur KT extinction survivors in Antarctica? The ‘Friends’ question… Velociraptor toe functionality… Bird Brains… How do we differentiate species? And if we know anything about how social dinosaurs were? With massive thanks to all our patrons, and especially Geraint Lewis, Shala Howell, Eric Farenger, Gutza1, Joe McLachlan, Javaraptor (G Hancock), Andrew White, Aisling Spain and Richard Bald.”

From the episode description on the Terrible Lizards podcast

My Review: ☕️☕️☕️☕️☕️

As the great political writer Charles P. Pierce at Esquire Magazine is fond of saying, “Dinosaurs lived then to make us happy now.” That has never been more true than in 2020. The Terrible Lizards podcast is an invariably entertaining listen, full of weird tidbits for The Thirteen-Year-Old and I to marvel over at dinner.

Longtime readers may remember that about eight years ago, while watching the 1925 movie The Lost World, a lively debate broke out at Caterpickles Central about whether or not sauropods could swim. As far as we could tell, most people would and could agree that sauropods waded through water. But is wading really the same as swimming? We couldn’t decide, so when Dr. Hone and Iszi asked their listeners for questions, we duly sent in our question about whether sauropods could swim. You can imagine how excited my daughter and I were when we realized that Dr. Hone and Iszi had actually answered it.

Tweet from me (@shalahowell) that says: "My face, when I realized that in today's episode of the Terrible Lizards podcast @Dave_Hone answers my question about swimming sauropods. SO EXCITING! Thanks, y'all" Image in the tweet shows me on my walk this morning wearing my giant pink hat & a black face mask. My eyes & hair look very surprised. Under the image is a tweet from @Iszi_lawrence advertising the episode with these words: "Could sauropods swim? What specific bone was Ross from Friends referring to AND did any dinosaurs survive in Antarctica? Your questions answered by ME... okay mainly @Dave_Hone in the latest #terriblelizards #podcast"

They mispronounce my name, but then, pretty much everyone does (soft a’s, y’all, like the “sha-la-la” chorus in a 1950’s song). However, that’s a small price to pay for a great answer and a shoutout on our favorite podcast.

What about you?

What have you been reading and/or listening to lately?

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