Monday, May 23, 2016

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: CICI RENO #MIDDLESCHOOLMATCHMAKER by Kristina Springer

CICI RENO #MIDDLESCHOOLMATCHMAKER by Kristina Springer (Sterling 2016)

Somebody raved about this on Twitter (see, Twitter has some uses) and I immediately needed to read it for the tag-line alone: "She's Cyrano de Bergerac in yoga pants..."

I wasn't disappointed.

What It's About (via Goodreads blurb):
Middle school is a test, but Cici Reno has all the answers. She's the go-to girl for advice. She's cool, she's funny, and she's enlightened (thanks to yoga classes at her mom's studio). So when her pretty BFF, Aggie, is too shy to speak to the boy she's crushing on, Cici goes online and does the talking for her. The only problem is, Cici starts to fall for the guy herself! For the first time in her life. she doesn't have a clue.

Opening Lines: 
"Ugh. My nail polish is smudged. I glance around for something to wipe up the blue-green nail polish on the side of my toe. Spotting nothing else available on the pool deck, I decide to use my beach towel. There. Much better."

Things to Admire:
First off, the cover is brilliant--a real snatch-off-the shelfer. This book perfectly catches all the middle school drama, and Cici is an endearing character: quick-witted, intelligent, and a friend to all. Being a yoga fan myself--I have to be, working for The Don and enduring all the stress he puts me under!--I enjoyed the way each chapter began with a yoga-inspired tweet from Cici. (Although I have to say that Twitter, judging from my 7th-grade son's choices, is not the go-to media platform for middle schoolers. That would be Instagram.)

The middle-school voice was pure brilliance--and laugh-out-loud funny at times, from the way Cici bickers with her brother, to the comments she shares with her bestie, Aggie, about their teachers:
"...Mr. Adwell, the gym teacher. Did you know he's dating the school librarian? Guess he's been checking out more than books."
"Ewwww," Aggie says. "They're both, like, a hundred years old."
"Senior citizens need love too, Aggie. Don't judge." 
For writers: If you want to see how to write a fast-paced and humorous book set in middle-school, look no further than CICI RENO!

I was able to get in touch with Kristina Springer and ask her my Notorious Mafioso Questions. Here are her responses:

1) Who are your favorite (middle grade) writers?
Lauren Myracle, Meg Cabot, R.J. Palacio, Sarah Mlynowski

2) What's on your nightstand now?
An advanced copy of Howard Wallace, P.I. by Casey Lyall

3) Pick a favorite scene from your novel, and say why you like it.
I LOVE the scene at the hockey rink in chapter 27. I don't want to say too much but it's a goose-bumpy kind of scene.

4) Fill in the blank: I'm really awesome at.... being a mom. :-)

5) My favorite breakfast is... eggs w/ avocado slices

6) If you could visit any place, where would it be? Italy (MGM: Kristina, The Don says grazie!)

About the Author (from her website):
Kristina Springer is the bestselling middle grade and young adult author of The Espressologist, My Fake Boyfriend is Better Than Yours, the Just Your Average line of books (Just Your Average Princess, Just Your Average Geek, and Just Your Average Celebrity), and the forthcoming Cici Reno #MiddleSchoolMatchmaker (Sterling Children's/April 2016). She has a Masters in Writing from DePaul University and resides in a suburb of Chicago with her husband and children.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: MANIAC MAGEE by Jerry Spinelli

MANIAC MAGEE by Jerry Spinelli (1990)

Since confession is good for the soul, I have to admit I'd never read this Newbery winner until last week, when I took it with me to a beach retreat. The impetus for giving it a look was the book club I heard about, started by Andrew Luck, who is the quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts football team. (The mere fact of a quarterback starting an online book club was so intriguing that the Don and I were sold. The Don's reading this month's adult selection, which is The Boys in the Boat. I can see a lot of sailing in our future.)

I flew through the book, and I have to say: what took me so long?!

What It's About: 
Jeffrey Lionel "Maniac" Magee might have lived a normal life if a freak accident hadn't made him an orphan. After living with his unhappy and uptight aunt and uncle for eight years, he decides to run--and not just run away, but run. This is where the myth of Maniac Magee begins, as he changes the lives of a racially divided small town with his amazing and legendary feats.

Opening Lines (Prologue): 
"They say Maniac Magee was born in a dump. They say his stomach was a cereal box and his heart a sofa spring."

Things To Love:
This has the feel of a fable to it. It is swift-moving, and deals with important issues (race, neglect, bullying, and loneliness) in a clear-eyed yet humorous fashion. As you can see from the opening lines of the prologue, the sentences sing with a giddy inventiveness. You can open any page of this novel and find wondrous descriptions--Maniac's sneakers are said to be "hanging by their hinges and flopping like dog tongues." The novel also shouts its Americanness unabashedly, with scenes of football and baseball, prizes like a weekly pizza, and a zoo which includes buffalo. I think it would make an exuberant read-aloud, and I can't wait to read it to my soon-to-be 4th grader. I can see why this is considered a modern-day classic.

About the Author:
When Jerry Spinelli was a kid, he wanted to grow up to be either a cowboy or a baseball player. Lucky for us he became a writer instead.

He grew up in rural Pennsylvania and went to college at Gettysburg College and Johns Hopkins University. He has published more than 25 books and has six children and 16 grandchildren.
Jerry Spinelli began writing when he was 16 — not much older than the hero of his book Maniac Magee. After his high school football team won a big game, his classmates ran cheering through the streets — all except Spinelli, who went home and wrote a poem about the victory. When his poem was published in the local paper, Spinelli decided to become a writer instead of a major-league shortstop.

In most of his books, Spinelli writes about events and feelings from his own childhood. He also gets a lot of material from his seven adventurous kids! Spinelli and his wife, Eileen, also a children's book author, live in Pennsylvania. WEBSITE

What other Jerry Spinelli books should I read? (I've read EGGS, but that's it.)

Monday, May 2, 2016

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: BOOK SCAVENGER by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

BOOK SCAVENGER by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman ( Henry Holt, 2015)

What It's About (via Goodreads):
Twelve-year-old Emily is on the move again. Her family is relocating to San Francisco, home of her literary idol: Garrison Griswold, creator of the online sensation Book Scavenger, a game where books are hidden all over the country and clues to find them are revealed through puzzles. But Emily soon learns that Griswold has been attacked and is in a coma, and no one knows anything about the epic new game he had been poised to launch. Then Emily and her new friend James discover an odd book, which they come to believe is from Griswold and leads to a valuable prize. But there are others on the hunt for this book, and Emily and James must race to solve the puzzles Griswold left behind before Griswold's attackers make them their next target.

Opening Lines: 
"Garrison Griswold whistled his way down Market Street, silver hair bobbing atop his head like a pigeon wing. He tapped his trademark walking stick, striped in Bayside Press colors, to the beat of his tune."

Things to Love:
Book Scavenger was another middle grade Cybils finalist, and it's very easy to love. Bertman has come up with a super concept--a book scavenger hunt--and who among us didn't love clues and ciphers and treasure hunts when we were young? (I mean, some of us may still do!)

The setting--in San Francisco, one of my favorite cities--is great. (There's even a chase down Lombard Street. How cool is that)

Book Scavenger reminded me a little of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, but I found the friendship between Emily (the main character), and her neighbor James to be better drawn than in the latter title. Bertman does a great job of describing what it feels like for a 12-year-old to be moving all over the country and the loss of stability that engenders.

Also, if you're a Poe fan, you will really enjoy all the Poe details and allusions. I can't wait to read the sequel (which is scheduled for January 2017!)

About The Author (from website):
Jennifer Chambliss Bertman writes stories with a bit of mystery, a bit of humor, and a lot of fun. Her debut novel, Book Scavenger (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt for Young Readers), was an Indie Next Kids’ Top Ten Pick, a Junior Library Guild selection, and one of five titles chosen for Publisher’s Weekly Best Summer Middle Grade Books for 2015, among other accolades. A sequel titled The Unbreakable Code will be published in 2016, followed by a stand-alone middle grade mystery in 2017. She has an MFA in creative writing and worked in publishing for over a decade before becoming a children’s book author.

Photo by Joseph Jestes