Monday, January 26, 2015
As you know from my last post, I just loved Mel Ryane's TEACHING WILL. I'm happy to report that Random.org did it's thang, and Karen Lee Hallam won a copy. (Karen look for an email from me in your inbox.)
The grooviest happening this week is the book birthday of THE INQUISITOR'S MARK, my Project Mayhem colleague, Dianne Salerni's latest. Publication date is the 27th!
I loved the first book in this series, THE EIGHTH DAY, (see my review and interview with Dianne from last year), and the sequel doesn't disappoint. Dianne is really skillful at creating tension and writing action scenes--and I am zipping through it, but not quite ready to post my review till next week.
Okay, back to reading. (Yikes, Jax and friends are being chased through the New York zoo by guys shooting tranquilizer darts. I can hardly breathe!) Have a great week, mafiosi!
Monday, January 12, 2015
Sometimes, if you're a really lucky mafioso, you stumble upon a book which makes you believe it was written just for you. Teaching Will: What Shakespeare and 10 Kids Gave Me That Hollywood Couldn't is just such a book.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a complete Shakespeare nut. Add to this the fact that I have two children who spend a great portion of their lives on stage (for child #3 it's the basketball court, but you can't win 'em all)--and I was totally enthralled by Mel Ryan's funny, honest, and ultimately touching portrayal about what it's like, without any formal educational training, to start a Shakespeare Club in a lower-income school.
What It's About: (from the back cover blurb) ~ "Power. Revenge. Love. Shakespeare's themes can be found in any schoolyard. And so a naive Mel Ryane volunteers to create The Shakespeare Club at a public school--for kids who have never seen a play, much less acted in one. With a lifetime of theatrical experience but zero classroom skills, Mel throws herself into this rollicking adventure expecting to inspire young lives. Alas, the first lesson: beware of expectations."
Opening Lines: "Did you know him?"
"Oh no, William Shakespeare lived over four hundred and forty years ago."
"Yeah, but did you know him?"
Twelve sets of eyes scope me out as I sit in front of them. Two boys and ten girls from the third, fourth, and fifth grades. Russell Crowe, Colosseum... I get it. These tiny Romans are salivating over my certain death. My mouth trembles as I smile, slapping on a sunny disposition.
"No... sad to say, I've never actually met the man."
Why I Loved It: As you can see from the above opening, Mel Ryan has an engaging writing style. She draws us immediately into the scene, and it's not much longer--while she is being badgered about her acting past by one of the students--that she writes: "God, give it up! I want to scream, but you shouldn't scream at children. That's never a good idea, and certainly not at the very first meeting." When I read that, I knew I was in excellent hands.
I loved the way the book is set out. Ryane begins each chapter with a Shakespearean quotation. Each chapter also has insets, where she quotes from the children s' journals, as well as sharing a thought about what she herself has learned, under "Lesson Plans." Throughout the narrative, Ryan intersperses anecdotes about her early life, conversations with her husband, and memories of her life on the stage and what it means to be an actor.
None of this experience is sugarcoated. The children are challenging, and Ryane is honest about the frustration she experiences. But, as they work towards putting on A Midsummer Night's Dream, they all begin to find the closeness that being cast in an acting performance brings. As Mel Ryane writes: "During our battles, I never thought the kids would deliver anything beyond an ordinary recitation of the play. I was wrong. These ten kids held hands and climbed a golden mountain... together."
This is a wonderful book, and I recommend it to anyone who loves Shakespeare, who works with kids, and who loves the stage.
I was lucky enough to contact Mel Ryane and ask her my notorious Mafioso questions. Here are her answers:
1) Who are your favorite (middle grade) writers?
E.B. White (Charlotte's Web), C.S. Lewis (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), Laura Ingalls Wilder (the Little House series). To this day I fantasize of being in Wilder's little snowbound house on the prairie.
2) What's on your nightstand now?
The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro and Sea Creatures by Susanna Daniel.
3) Pick a favorite scene from your novel--or in this case, memoir--and say why you like it:
I especially like Chapter XIV, "War Declared."
The Shakespeare Club meets in the library that week because we've been kicked out of our regular classroom. The kids start a paper fight and I just lose it. In that moment I remember my own seventh-grade self in our school library with our poor librarian completely losing control of chaotic kids. It reminds me that children view their job as gaining power from adults. It's kind of a battle and the adult, being the adult, has to finesse the upper hand. Tough stuff for any teacher, parent or coach.
4) Fill in the blank: I'm really awesome at....
I'm really lousy at a longer list of things, but since you didn't ask….
5) My favorite breakfast is…
Leftovers! I'm not really a fan of traditional breakfast foods but I love spaghetti for breakfast, or a salad with a poached egg on top, or a tuna sandwich. All with strong coffee, of course.
6) If you could visit any place, where would it be?
I would love to spend a month in Portugal. There are castles along the Portuguese coastline that have been converted into pensions. I could see myself happily dining on grilled fish and sleeping in castles. (Me too, Ms. Ryane. Me too!)
Ahout the Author:
Following a distinguished career as a classically trained actor onstage and in film and television, Mel Ryane has found a new artistic home in the written word with her memoir, Teaching Will: What Shakespeare and 10 Kids Gave Me That Hollywood Couldn't.
Mel became a professional actor during her teens in her native Canada, and then followed her career to New York City and to theatres across North America. After applying her skills to coaching actors on major studio and network projects, Mel was accepted into the Directing Workshop for Women at the prestigious American Film Institute. She subsequently wrote a screenplay that advanced to the semifinal round in the Motion Picture Academy's Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting competition.
Mel travels across the country teaching "From Page to Podium: Reading Your Work Aloud," a workshop that helps writers find their public speaking voice. She also offers school workshops introducing Shakespeare to students. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, their dog and cat.
I am also delighted to be able to giveaway a copy of this great book, courtesy of Ms. Ryane's publicist, Darlene Chan. All you have to do is leave a comment, telling me what your favorite Shakespeare play is. Ciao!
Monday, January 5, 2015
But que sera, sera. We are excited for the kids (in the Don's case, the grandkids) to go back to school so that we can have a couple of hours a day dedicated to bringing you all things middle grade. We're excited about all of the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday books we hope to feature during the next couple of months--and, being betting men, we are particularly eager to see how the Cybils awards play out.
The Cybils shortlists were announced on New Year's Day, and boy oh boy did they start 2015 off with a bang! I was particularly pleased to see my friend Tara Dairman's novel, ALL FOUR STARS, make the list, as well as Megan Jean Sovern's THE MEANING OF MAGGIE, which I reviewed in May of 2014.
Lots of good books to read! I look forward to visiting blogs old and new this year, and continuing to make meaningful connections with those who love middle grade fiction.
Monday, December 15, 2014
What It's About (from Dianna's website): Poppy's life has been turned upside down after her grandma (and guardian) had a stroke and ended up in the hospital. But Poppy is working on a plan to help Grandma Beth so their life together can go back to normal. But when she witnesses an armed robbery, "back to normal" slips even further out of her reach. To keep Poppy safe, the budget-strapped police devise an unusual "witness protection program," wherein Poppy will stay with Detective Brannigan's mother. Soon Poppy is feeling almost at home, even making sort-of friends with a girl named Lizzie and definitely friending Gunner, a beautiful dog with an uncertain fate. But it's still not home. So while she and Lizzie navigate a rocky friendship and plot to save Gunner's life, Poppy also tries to figure out a new plan to save Grandma Beth and their home, all while avoiding a dangerous robber who might be searching for her. But what if Grandma Beth can never come home and the robber is put behind bars? What will happen to Poppy then?
Opening Lines: "I didn't know how to make the little girl stop crying."
Why I Loved it: I love the main character's--Poppy Parker's--voice. It was totally real on so many levels. That enabled me to handle the tough subject matter--Poppy witnesses a murder, lies about recognizing the culprit, and ends up in a very scary chase through the park, with the murderer hot on her heels. I also loved the portrayal of the adults, as well as Gunner, a German Shepherd on death row. There are several sad scenes, which Ms. Winget handles deftly. All in all, a fantastic contemporary middle grade.
I featured Dianna Dorisi Winget's debut, A Smidgen of Sky, in October 2012--a novel which I was very taken with then too. And I got to ask Ms. Winget a few of my patented Mafioso questions:
Who are your favorite (mg) writers? This changes fairly often depending on which book I've most recently fallen in love with, but here are a few current favorites-Ingrid Law, Katherine Applegate, Kirby Larson, Jennifer Nielsen
What's on your nightstand right now? I don't actually have a nightstand, so I'll tell you what's in my cluttered magazine rack next to my recliner. This is where I do 90 percent of my reading, where I sit, stuffed in between my two dogs, with barely enough room to move.
The Dogs of Winter, by Bobbie Pyron
Dash, by Kirby Larson
The Bridge from Me to You, by Lisa Schroeder
Conviction, by Kelly Loy Gilbert
Choose a favorite scene in your novel, and say why you like it. Ooooh, so tough! One scene I really love is the brief one that takes place shortly after Poppy meets Detective Trey Brannigan. Poppy's tickled to discover several boxes of Twinkies in his kitchen cabinet and threatens to steal all of them. Trey calmly replies that she's not big enough to take his Twinkies. That scene always makes me laugh because it's a fun glimpse into the relationship that develops between them.
I'm really awesome at... shirking my responsibilities, such as housecleaning, so I have more time to read.
What's your favorite breakfast? I love cereal. My favorite is granola with raspberries/huckleberries on top.
Where in the world would you like to travel? I'm really not much of a traveler, but I'd love to visit Australia and snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. I'd also like to spend some time in the South--maybe Georgia or Alabama, because my debut, A Smidgen of Sky, as well as the newly released sequel, A Sliver of Sun, are both set in the South, even though I'm a northerner :)
About the Author: You can read all about Dianna on her bio page on her website HERE
Looking forward to a Sliver of Sun, Dianna. Thanks for visiting today, everyone!
Monday, December 1, 2014
What It's About: Saving the school -- one con at a time.
Jackson Greene swears he's given up scheming. Then school bully Keith Sinclair announces he's running for Student Council president, against Jackson's former friend Gaby de la Cruz. Gaby wants Jackson to stay out of it -- but he knows Keith has "connections" to the principal, which could win him the presidency no matter the vote count.
So Jackson assembles a crack team: Hashemi Larijani, tech genius. Victor Cho, bankroll. Megan Feldman, science goddess. Charlie de la Cruz, reporter. Together they devise a plan that will take down Keith, win Gaby's respect, and make sure the election is done right. If they can pull it off, it will be remembered as the school's greatest con ever -- one worthy of the name THE GREAT GREENE HEIST.
Opening Lines: "As Jackson Greene sped past the Maplewood Middle School cafeteria – his trademark red tie skewed slightly to the left, a yellow No. 2 pencil balanced behind his ear, and a small spiral-bound notebook tucked in his right jacket pocket – he found himself dangerously close to sliding back into the warm confines of scheming and pranking.”
What I Liked: There's been a call lately for #MoreDiverseBooks, and this one definitely fits the bill. As you can see from this eye-catcher of a cover, there is a lot of diversity in this school body.
I really enjoyed Jackson Greene's acumen and intelligence, as he and his crew work to pull off this magnificent con. The author has mentioned one of his inspirations as being Ocean's Eleven, and part of the fun is trying to figure out how this is all going to work. The narrative is fast-paced and I would particularly recommend it to writers studying how to make an omniscient narration work. (As such, you may enjoy Varian Johnson's interview at The Nerdy Book Club where he writes: "I read, and re-read, and re-read again The Westing Game. I studied the mechanics of how author Ellen Raskin slipped in and out of each character’s head; how she used the narrator’s voice to play with the reader. Her use of omniscient perspective became the blueprint for the novel.")
This novel has gotten a lot of buzz, and I think it is richly deserved. I can see this as being a hit with middle grade readers all across the board!
About the Author (From his website): Varian Johnson is the author of four novels, including The Great Greene Heist, a Publishers Weekly Best Summer Book of 2014. His novels for older readers include My Life as a Rhombus, named to the Texas Library Association Tayshas High School Reading List and the New York Public Library “Stuff for the Teen Age” list, and Saving Maddie, a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book.
Varian was born in Florence, South Carolina, and attended the University of Oklahoma, where he received a BS in Civil Engineering. He later received an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Varian now lives outside of Austin, TX with his family.
Monday, November 17, 2014
Hi folks! We're not doing a marvelous middle grade Monday today because, quite frankly, we're feeling swamped at Mafioso HQ what with selecting and packaging books as holiday presents for the Don's friends and acquaintances. But I did take a break--with the Don's blessing, after he caught sight of the title--to enjoy this picture book by Margo Sorenson, who is a great friend of this blog.
This is a fun, fun book. It tells the story of Jake, who likes to visit his Uncle Rocco's restaurant to read his favorite books to the chef. But trouble is brewing, as Uncle Rocco may lose his lease if a good neighbor can't be found to share the building.
Jake sets off on a mission, visiting the bank, the post office, and the gas station, to see if they would be interested in relocating. No such luck because, although everyone loves Uncle Rocco's food, they don't want to find "rows of pizzas baking in the bank vault," or "lasagna airmailed all over the world," or--horrors!--"gas pumps pumping tomato sauce instead of gas."
Downcast, Jake wanders into a bookstore, where he convinces the store owner. After all, "everyone would buy your books and then eat next door... Or they could eat at Rocco's first, and then buy a book from you for dessert." Now, everyone's happy. Even the pizzas are smiling!
I loved Margo Sorenson's wacky sense of humor, and the illustrations by David Harrington are delightfully energetic and eye-catching. I can see myself reading this to the Don's grandkids until the cover falls apart!
Margo Sorenson is a writer with an incredible range and mastery of a variety of subject matter. Here's a link to an interview I did with her for her middle grade novel Tori and the Sleigh of Midnight Blue. And here's more information about her:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Author of twenty-eight books, Margo Sorenson was born in Washington, DC, and spent the first seven years of her life in Spain and Italy. After teaching high school and middle school and raising a family of two daughters, Margo is now a full-time writer. A National Milken Educator Award recipient, Margo always has a good time meeting with her readers in school and library settings from Minnesota to California and Hawaii.
Margo and her husband now live full-time in California. When she isn't writing, she enjoys visiting her grandchildren, playing golf, reading, watching sports, traveling, and hearing from her readers. You can visit her website here, or follow her on Twitter @ipapaverison.
Thanks for reading, everyone, and have a Positively Perfect Picture Book Monday! Ciao!!
Monday, November 3, 2014
How we got Shelby Bach on Middle Grade Mafioso:
Guys and Dolls, it's been a grim year here at HQ. Yes, even someone as mighty as the Don has had to do some belt-tightening and I'm afraid the blogging business has fallen down the food chain. (Blast that Luca Brasi Jr., with his crazy ideas for yet another golf course on Long Island.) As a result, we are being severely nickle and dimed at the communications center--I mean I even have to ask permission to buy gum from the vending machine.
The Don's been in major "no" mode. Could we go to conferences? No. How about flying to Edinburgh to interview J.K. Rowling? That resulted in a string of Mamma mias, as well as some Sicilian slang that would make your ears burn.
So, it was with trepidation that I put forward my proposal to be part of Shelby Bach's blog tour. And wadda ya know... it seems the Don's grandkids are all over Shelby's The Ever Afters series. "Little Bella, she wants to be that Rory girl. Hey, you get Ms. Bach on your top-grade blog, and I increase your allowance."
The rest is history. Take that, Luca B.!
The exciting thing is that Shelby Bach has sent us some never-before-seen extras to share with you Ever Afters fans. How about viewing the orientation letters that two of the main characters received? Here are the letters for Lena and Chase! (Plus oodles of links to some incredible fairy tales!)
Lena's Orientation Letter:
Dear Ms. Jacqueline Lamarelle,
Welcome to Ever After School. We are so pleased that you have joined our fine establishment, and we hope that your time here with us will be both memorable and non-fatal.
Looking through our records, we can report finding the following Tales in the last five generations of your family.
On your father’s side:
The Water Sprite/Nixie (your father and your father’s sister)
The Giant with Three Golden Hairs (your paternal grandmother)
Jack the Giant Killer (father of your paternal grandmother)
The Daughter of Buk Ettemsuch (mother of your paternal grandmother’s
On your mother’s side:
Old Mother Frost (your mother)
The Nunda, Eater of People (father of your maternal grandfather)
The Feather Bird (mother of your maternal grandmother)
The Valiant Taylor (great-uncle of your maternal grandmother – note:
The Nix in the Pond (great-aunt of your maternal grandmother – note:
Failed Tale, survived as turtle until enchantment could be broken)
The Fisherman and His Wife (father of your maternal grandmother’s
The One-Handed Girl (mother of your maternal grandmother’s father)
If you have not already done so, please take a little time this week to read these Tales in Anderson, Grimm, and/or Lang, as there is an increased likelihood that you and your siblings will have similar Tales.
Your paternal grandmother, who is also your namesake, has called to inform me that her family is descended from Madame Benne. Though she never had a Tale of her own, Madame Benne formed a Triumvirate with Maerwynne and Rikard, two renowned Characters who lived at the dawn of the last millennium. Together, they founded the Canon, the organization of Tale representatives that has governed and guided all Characters since that time. As your grandmother has told you, Madame
Benne herself is celebrated as the greatest inventor of magical items in written history. The golden apple that grants me and my fellow Canon members unaging immortality is only one of her unduplicated creations. If you are interested in learning more about your famous ancestress, please feel free to visit our Reference Room, which houses several books on the subject.
Best Wishes, and Best of Luck,
Chase's Orientation Letter:
Dear Mr. Chase Turnleaf,
This letter, as you well know, is unnecessary. You have memorized all the Tales occurring within the last dozen generations of your family. You memorized them within a week of moving here with your father. Unlike many young Characters who arrive at Ever After School without this knowledge, you do not require this information from me, and writing this is a waste of my time and yours.
However, you insist, and Rumpelstiltskin has informed me that you have begun trying to break into the library in order to doublecheck your father’s memory and locate your ancestors’ Tales. That behavior must cease.
Thus, looking through our records, we can confirm the following Tales in the last five generations of your family:
Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack the Giant Killer (your father)
The Emperor’s New Clothes (your paternal grandfather)
Dapplegrim (youngest brother of your paternal grandfather)
The Glass Coffin (younger brother of your paternal grandmother)
The Boy Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was (father of your
Aladdin (great-uncle of your paternal grandfather)
We have discussed, at great length, the reasons why the Tales on your father’s side may have no bearing on your own destiny as a Character. I will not waste further time by listing them again here.
P.S. If this does not satisfy your curiosity, let it be known that since your father is out of town,
attending to his duties as Champion of the Canon, the duty of disciplining you falls to me. For
three years, I have resisted sending a child to the dungeons, but you are tempting me to reinstate
The dungeons?! Eeek!! Maybe we'll all feel better if we read the enclosed discussion guide for Of Giants and Ice.
There are a bunch of other worthy blogs sharing some extras for the Ever Afters in the coming week. Stop by and say hi!
Blog Tour –
November 3 – Middle Grade Mafioso
November 4 – From the Mixed-Up Files
November 5 – Log Cabin Literary
November 6 – Amanda K. Thompson Blog
November 7 – Novels, News, and Notes
November 8 – Green Bean Teen Queen
And here's some info on Shelby, and where to find her on the web. Thanks for stopping by and hanging with Shelby, the Ever Afters, and the Mafioso today. Grazie!
Shelby Bach was born in Houston, Texas and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, but while writing THE EVER AFTERS, she moved almost as many times as her main character. She came up with the idea for the series right before she left New York City, and she finished the first book, OF GIANTS AND ICE, in Montana—the second, OF WITCHES AND WIND, back in Charlotte. Driving up the West Coast to research the settings for the third book, OF SORCERY AND SNOW, Shelby fell in love with Portland, Oregon and settled there.
She would love to set up a Door Trek system in her apartment to visit her family and friends around the country, but she makes do with much slower and less fictional transportation. These days, while
finishing up the fourth and final book, she also works part time for a real-life afterschool program. It is strangely similar to the one where her stories are set—except the students study math instead of fairy tales.
Shelby’s Social Media