Check out 5th Grade Challenge on Audible!

“Ted, the 5th grade genius and Veronica, his arch-rival, are constantly pranking each other. When the pranks spill over and ignite a grade-wide war, the teachers organize a girls vs. boys competition.”

This is a project I’ve been working on during 2020 with author Jamaal Fridge! I absolutely loved voicing his characters and discussing his work with him. It was so much fun and such a great learning experience as both an actor and an author!

You can find the audiobook on audible and read along!

5th Grade Challenge Audio Book!

All the chapters for The 5th Grade Challenge are up on YouTube! I had so much fun recording this audio book for Jamaal Fridge. He’s created a fun cast of character’s, I definitely recommend checking out his work!

I think my favourite scenes were between Amber and James, but I loved voicing everyone equally.

Stories like this are fun, exciting, and filled with a wave of emotions! Working on The 5th Grade Challenge reminded me of why I love to read so much! Voicing these characters rekindled that initial joy books used to bring me!

My rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

You can check it out on Goodreads as well!

Black Canary Ignite Review

Title: Black Canary Ignite.

Author: Meg Cabot

Age Group: Middle Grade, 9-12 years old.

When I heard that the author of The Princess Diaries was writing a comic book, and said comic book was about Black Canary, I knew I had to read it!

This book was definitely a fun read. I instantly recommended it to my niece once I was finished. It’s age appropriate, the characters are fun and Dinah is in a rock band. How cool is that?

The artwork, done by Cara McGee, who creates these charming images of Dinah and her friends. I loved the movement in the images as well. Plus everything was super warm and colourful (aside from the villains of course).

The story itself was fun. Honestly, I wish it had been a little longer…or perhaps split up into a series. I did however appreciate that the comic remained age appropriate as say…for example shows like Young Justice which were originally rated Y7 are now very clearly PG 13. In cases like this show I don’t mind as much, simply because the original target audience has grown up along with the characters. However when it comes to comic books I think it’s important to be very clear who the target age group is for. Which is why I always read books before giving them to my niece.

My niece really, really liked the comic. She found Dinah and her friends hilarious. She also wanted to help Dinah kick some Joker butt (who doesn’t wanna be a superhero right?).

We had so much fun reading it together and because of that it’s getting 4.5 stars!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Who is your favourite superhero and if you could have one super power, what would it be?

Manga I Read as A Kid

WARNING: This entire blog post will likely be filled with excessive fan-girling. For your own safety, please approach with caution.

I’ve been reading manga and comic books for a very long time. However, this isn’t a post about my favourite Archie comics…this is about Manga I read as a kid. Now, I am aware that some of these series are for teens. I didn’t understand the rating system when I was 9, so you’ll have to excuse me.

I will be noting which ones I definitely don’t think you should read between 9 and 12…and which ones are definitely 16 plus. At the time, I didn’t know anyone besides my younger sister and our friend M (who is the same age as her), who read manga. So the three of us were constantly finding books that made us go, “GAAAAAH!” haha…which I laugh at now as an adult but there are some books that seriously messed us up and some that were very mature in subject matter.

If my friend who had gotten my sister and I into manga and anime didn’t move back to Japan in 3rd grade I don’t think we would’ve had this problem. His mom knew what was what…and well our Canadian parents definitely did not.

Note

Now, for those of you who haven’t read manga or perhaps have children interested in manga, graphic novels and comic books, the rating system is similar to how films are rated and are based on subject matter.

For example:

There is children’s manga: Pokemon, Yokai Watch, Beyblade, Yugi Oh

All Ages: Girl from the Other Side

Teen 13+ manga: Minima, Shugo Chara, Card Captor Sakura, Sailor Moon, Kamichama Karin, Hatsu Haru, Love in Focus, Anonymous Noise, Kodocha, Me and my Brothers…etc.

Teen 16+ manga: Mars, Ao Haru Ride, Dengeki Daisy, Wotakoi, Daytime Shooting Star, We Where There, A Silent Voice…etc.

and 18+ manga: Monster, Ao Haru Machine Gun…etc.

Some of them will say Older Teen and will be placed in the general manga section, usually with the adult books as they are recommended for readers 18 or older.

Now Let’s Begin!


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Kamichama Karin

I had to start with this manga. My sister and I read the entire series (part 1 and 2) during the summer. We were hooked! We watched the anime as soon as we finished.

I think this was the first summer where our mom didn’t have to fight my sister to take time out of the day to read.

The series was hilarious, fun and of course about a magical girl. Plus the artwork was adorable.

My sister and I still crack many inside jokes to this day about the series.

I would definitely rank this as a 13 plus manga. I think I was in 6th grade when I read it and my sister…she would’ve been 10 (4th grade). I’m pretty sure the rating for this series is 13 plus but I’m not sure. That’s just what I’m ranking it as based on the content.

Honestly, it was really fun.


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Shugo Chara

I’m still obsessed with this series. I was 12 when I read and watched it and I ended up rewatching the anime in my first year of university.

It’s funny because I remembered parts of it being sad as a kid but in university I cried like a baby watching it…while stuffing my face with mountain dew, stir fry and candy bars. I think I understood certain things more at 18 than I did at 12.

To this day I find more and more people who were absolutely obsessed with this series.

I even dressed like Amu as much as possible. She was also extremely relatable as were her friends.

I’m positive this is a 13 plus series but it may also be ranked as children’s (for the spin off series). It reminds me a little of what Miraculous Ladybug is today. Only the kwamis are chara/heart’s eggs and your super powers are what you wanna be when you grow up.

Plus who doesn’t love these beans?


Beyblade

I cannot express how much I love Beyblade. Like I love it so much that even to this day I see the toys and I instantly beam with excitement.

I read the manga when I was 10 and watched the series between 8 and 11 (rewatching it constantly because I have part of season 1 on VHS).

I even dreamed about it. That’s how much I loved this series.

I wanted to be a Beyblader, travel the world, make friends, fall in love with Ray or Kai (I could never decide) and have a super cool team name.

Yah…this series was fantastic and is honestly for all ages. I’d watch it with a toddler or my Nana (she’s watched it lol).


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Kingdom Hearts

I will forever be in love with this series (both the games and the manga). Although the games are more fun in an interactive sense, the manga is fantastic for younger readers.

I would rate this manga all ages as I think it could be enjoyed at any age. It’s a great story, with fun and memorable characters plus…reading books based on video games has become a huge trend lately.

I can’t get enough of these characters.


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Me & My Brothers

This series started off well…and I do own a few copies of it…however it’s questionable, especially the 13+ rating.

Not saying that it’s innapropriate but like…a 14 year old girl being in love with her 24…or 30 something year old step-brother is just…yah.

At the time I read this I was 12 and everyone I knew who had read it found that whole thing extremely awkward and uncomfortable.

The story however is really fantastically written.

Perhaps if Sakura liked one of the younger brothers? Like the 16 or 18 year old? Maybe then it would…yah I’m still not okay with it. I just can’t justify it, I never could. But I still really liked the series. The amount of drama in it was insane! So much happened.

I recommend the series by the author with the babysitters instead. From what I read in high school (I lost track of this series sadly), it was a lot more…um….

I don’t know what to say. Good book. Questionable content. NEXT!


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Tokyo Mew Mew

Oh my goodness.

Okay so my love for Mew Mew is almost as strong as my hardcore love for Sailor Moon.

I adored magical girl manga. I think it’s because my mom got me into watching the old Wonder Woman show as a kid?

This series wasn’t just fun and adventurous it also had a great message about taking care of the planet. I definitely recommend it to younger audiences. I believe I was 11 when I read it? I’ve read it more than once though. I also really liked the show which was dubbed in English as well for people who aren’t so great at keeping up with subtitles.


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We Were There

I cried. I was way too young for this manga.

I thankfully didn’t watch the anime until university. There were certain scenes that were hard to stomach. It’s a heavier story and I definitely would recommend for 16+ readers.

It’s a really good story…but the level of maturity and the content is definitely not something I should have been reading at the time. I think I was around 11 or 12?

Yano and Nanami ave a fairly toxic relationship as well, which unfortunately stems from Yano’s previous relationship where his girlfriend died. He also continues to keep things from Nanami like how he slept with his dead girlfriends younger sister…it’s messy.

I gave that context simply because again, probably not something an 11 year old needs to be reading. I liked the story but I cried a lot and was extremely upset by it. In university when I fully understood everything that was going on, I cried more and also at times hated the characters.


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Monkey High!

I never finished Monkey High! but my friend and I were reading them back when I was in the 6th grade (she was in 4th). We loved how cute it was.

I believe however that the rating for this series is…maybe 16+ but I don’t know for sure. It’s hard to find the actual rating systems online.

Still I remember thoroughly enjoying this one! I may revisit it and give it a review in the near future.


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Sugar Sugar Rune

This series was adorable. Like really adorable. Like I don’t even know if I can contain how sweet it was.

Chocolat and Vanilla have the sweetest friendship of all time and just…it was wonderful and very imaginative.

I remember reading this at a friends house just gushing over the pages (and Pierre).

I didn’t find out until last October that the series was adapted into an anime, so I watched it then because spooky vibes.

I honestly think this series is fine for All Ages. Especially the show, however it was never dubbed…like Shugo Chara…which I find weird. If anyone wants to dub them, hit me up though because I would love to be apart of that.

Still this series was really focused on the strong love and bond between friends more than anything…and it honestly made me miss the good old days. It was so much fun reading manga together and talking about out favourite characters all summer or on the school bus every morning.


I’ve read so many other’s but I can’t think of anything else at the moment that I read before I was 13 that I can put on this list…aside from like Hamtaro, but I’ve never seen a manga for it so I have no idea if it exists. I do however have the VHS and managed to keep all the toys my friend gave me before he moved back to Japan. It was really cool having a penpal! My sister and I always laugh about all the fun games we used to play as kids.

I will definitely do a list of manga I read as a teenager in the near future and rate those as well. It’s been a nice trip down memory lane. I definitely want to revisit many of these stories. They still hold a dear place in my heart…even those that…were upsetting for me as a kid.

I’m also thinking of doing a post where I discuss my favourite manga/anime fashion icons. Not gonna lie, I used to get all my outfit inspiration from cartoons. These artists had a great eye for fashion.

Just look at Momo from Peach Girl!

I actually own the art book for this series…and like…Miwa Ueda needed to start a clothing line or something. Her characters always look amazing.

If you read manga as a kid, what was your favourite series and why? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Give a Book, Give a Dream – Melissa Schroeder’s fundraiser

MELISSA SCHROEDER is a 5th grade teacher looking to raise money to buy her students books, that they can keep, for their first day of school!

I had teachers who did this when I was little, and I actually still have all the books they gave me to this day!

“The gift of reading creates a safe haven for many students and opens doors of possibilities they may not have realized existed. It is truly an invaluable gift that you would be able to provide for the most appreciative children.”

Melissa Schroeder

You can learn more about her fundraiser on Scholastic’s website!

Book Talk: Writing Diverse Characters

I came across this video, which relates to a few conversations I’ve seen circling the Twitter #WritingCommunity in these past few weeks regarding writing diverse characters (specifically POC).

This video is about 20 minutes, but I think that regardless of your race, it highlights the key issues regarding representation in media and how to do it properly.

When I saw certain threads regarding this topic, and please note that I am not calling anyone out, I was a little disappointed in the comments people made about why they avoided writing characters outside of their race. Many people felt it would be inappropriate to attempt writing a character outside of their own race because “they don’t understand the experience.” No one is telling you to write a story about racial prejudices. The questions were often simply, is your main character a different race than your own, or do you include other races in your work. The colour of your characters skin doesn’t have to be the main focus in your story.

In fact, I find it annoying (not always but a lot of the time), when a show or book put so much emphasis on the race of a character, versus their actual personality. It stunts character development and shows a lack of understanding.

I believe it was an interview that I watched this Chiamanda Ngozi Adichie, back when I took African Lit’ in university, who talked about how as she was a child she would read western books and all the characters were white. So she thought, that that was how it was supposed to be. Characters in books were white.

Here’s the video here:

As she states in this Ted Talk, it really shows how impressionable children are and also highlights and issue that I remember another author, Jenna Moreci mentioning on her Instagram, when she discussed some of the fan art she had been receiving of her characters. She mentioned in the post, that it frustrated her when people drew her characters who she described to have a deep tan and thick curly locks and brown eyes, were being drawn as pale, blonde-haired and blue-eyed. She was baffled by how readers completely ignored the character descriptions, and automatically interpreted the characters as white. She posted beautiful illustrations that she had created by an artist, showing how the characters looked based on her descriptions. Many readers were shocked to see that this character wasn’t white, and were confused because that wasn’t how they pictured him. Jenna didn’t want to make a big deal about race in her novels because the characters race was not essential to the plot. However, and this is just my interpretation as someone who participated in this conversation on her post, she and many others in the comments seemed disappointed by the fact that when an author doesn’t shove “otherness”…and I hate using that word in this case, but I will…and cram it down their readers throats, it goes completely over peoples heads because “western books are about white people.”

Unfortunately this isn’t uncommon. I myself grew up reading books about white people aside from my favourite Robert Munsch book and the ones I was forced to read during black history month.

Yes, I said forced, because growing up the only books at my school with black or mixed main characters were about slavery. Yep. You try being the only “black” person in your class during black history month, while your class is reading about slavery and relearning about Harriet Tubman for the millionth time. The teacher just turns to you and goes, “So what do you think about this?” as if you were paying attention. Dude, I’ve heard this same lesson for the first 8 years of my education. I tuned you out when you started saying “coloured folk.”

I’m backtracking a bit here, but I want to talk about the Robert Munsch book because honestly, it meant so much to me as a little girl. I saw myself as the girl in that book. The book was called Wait and See. The girl in the book, although both her parents were black (unlike in my own family), had bubbles in her hair and it was braided in two like Pippi Longstocking. She styled it just like me! I loved it so much that every time I would read it, I would pretend that I was her and I was making all sorts of birthday cakes and coming up with these absurd wishes. I’d even read it to my little sister and tell her that the baby in it was her.

Simply having illustrations with a character that looked like me, made me feel so happy, during a time where I honestly didn’t pay any attention to race. At that age race honestly wasn’t something that I paid any attention to unless someone asked me why one side of my arm was white and the other side was brown…to which I answered, “Because my Daddy has white skin and my Mommy has brown skin.”

Also, if you don’t know what bubbles are, because my sister and I realize that they’re no longer in style, here’s what they look like:

Honestly, I’m surprised these haven’t made a comeback. They’re so fun and cute! I loved doing mismatch colours. One side had orange and the other blue, or pink and purple.

Anyway, when I started to write my own stories, I like Chimamanda, wrote about white people, unless of course a character was loosely based on one of my friends. I honestly didn’t see a problem with it at the time, until my brother asked why everyone I drew was white. The drawings in this case, being of characters from the book series I wrote when I was in seventh grade. My only response was, “I don’t know…?” because it wasn’t something I did unconsciously. I simply wrote a story and imagined the cast of characters as white people. They could literally be any race at all, but they weren’t.

It wasn’t until I heard Chimamanda’s Ted Talk in University that it all came together.

Initially I don’t think I noticed it because I’m half-white and half-black. I don’t look at myself as a singular race. I never have. I embody two races and two cultures. Growing up I watched Full House and I watched Fresh Prince. I loved The Proud Family and Kim Possible.

One thing I often thought was strange was how in movies where characters had relationships like my parents, the two families always fought about race…that…that was just…honestly films with interracial couples that only focus on racial issues bother me. I haven’t read a novel with an interracial couple yet, but I have heard that sadly…it is often the same. I’m not saying that we should ignore these experiences, I’m just saying why can’t we have a romance where two people are of a different race or culture and not make the entire thing about race and culture. Why can’t it be your typical person A meets person B and they fall in love kind of story?

The other reason why I don’t think I noticed the lack of diversity in literature, and also the reason why I myself mainly wrote white characters growing up, is because that is what English literature looked like. As I said before, the only books aside from the Robert Munsch one, that I read about black people were about slavery. The only books that I read about Asian people…well at least here in Canada…were about David Suzuki. I’m not joking. It sounds absurd now with all the sudden representation in literature and film in the last 5 years…but seriously. Unless it was like manga, I didn’t read anything about people who weren’t white.

Now like I said, I’m not here to call anyone out. I’m guilty of doing this, but I am also fully aware of why people subconsciously write their characters this way. I can understand the concept of not wanting to tell a story that isn’t your own experience…however, being of another race doesn’t make your character who they are. There are so many different layers to this.

The hopeless romantic is still a soft hearted, falls hard, lives in their own fantasy world type of person.

The warrior is still strong, fighting to survive and constantly adapting to their situations.

Their race has nothing to do with these aspects of their personalities.

I also don’t think it is necessarily appropriate to purposely fill your novel with a diverse cast of characters, for the sake of it, or because it is currently “trendy” or what literary agents are looking for. And yes…I have seen literary agents and publishers specifically say they want stories with POC main characters. Being inclusive shouldn’t be a way to make money…but whatever.

What I’m saying is, by trying to force diversity into your work, you will end up taking away from the story. I’ve seen this happen and it completely blew up in the authors face.

What happens is you end up with a bunch of dangerously problematic stereotypes, which takes away from your writing and shows a lack of creativity.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself, but how can I write people outside my race? And even if you aren’t thinking that, well…you’ve probably seen that question come up in writing circles or across the web.

The answer is simple, just write a character the way you normally would. Don’t suddenly make them crave fried chicken, or be obsessed with bubble tea, or love na’an bread. If you are writing a character, you write them as a person, not as a stereotype of a group of people.

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend watching both of those videos along with videos about literary tropes and misrepresentation all across the board.

I also hope that you do understand that just because it seems “trendy” right now to have a diverse cast of characters, doesn’t mean you should write diverse characters for the sake of being on trend. In my personal opinion that can be even more problematic than not being diverse at all.

A favourite artist of mine, Shiroi Room isn’t black but she draws black characters. I have two of her illustrations and they are beautiful! The one I have in this collage is the “Party” one.

What I mentioned above still applies to other forms of art, not just literature. Just because you don’t know how to draw braids or twists yet, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. How will you learn if you never give it a shot?

All in all, I wanted to discuss this topic in regards to literature (and media as a whole), because representation does matter, and to me it is baffling that myself and other authors like Chimamanda fell into this subconscious mindset that all western literary characters have to look a certain way.

As I told my niece in a drawing tutorial I made for her, you can make your characters look however you want. They can even have purple skin and green hair.

Just treat your characters with care and consideration.