Monday, August 18, 2014

Screaming at the Ump by Audrey Vernick for MMGM, plus An Interview!



Screaming at the Ump by Audrey Vernick (ages 9 to 13, Clarion Books, March 2014)

Source: I won this book from Rosi Hollinbeck, who blogs at The Write Stuff. Go visit! She has a lot of cool stuff on there.

Synopsis (from Indiebound): Twelve-year-old Casey Snowden knows everything about being an umpire. His dad and grandfather run a New Jersey umpire school, Behind the Plate, and Casey lives and breathes baseball. Casey's dream, however, is to be a reporter--objective, impartial, and fair, just like an ump. 

But when he stumbles upon a sensational story involving a former major league player in exile, he finds that the ethics of publishing it are cloudy at best. This emotionally charged coming-of-age novel about baseball, divorce, friendship, love, and compassion challenges its readers to consider all the angles before calling that strike.

Why I recommend it:  Well, yes, I grew up with baseball. Some of my earliest memories include chasing fireflies around my backyard while my parents listened to the Phillies game on the radio. As a teen, I went to a lot of home games and knew all the players and their stats. 

Surprisingly, though, I'm not much of a baseball fan now. Yet I still loved this book. Whether or not you love baseball, you'll enjoy reading Screaming At The Ump, especially for Casey's authentic voice and the wackiness of his best friend, Zeke. 

The title gets my vote for Best Title So Far This Year. There's a lot of humor here, not just boy humor. But then the book goes deeper, which is what I love most about it. Vernick deftly handles not only Casey's feelings about his parents' divorce, but about the former major league player who shows up at Behind the Plate under a different name. Casey's struggle over doing what's right will resonate with the reader. This is one of those books you'll think about long after you've turned the last page.



And now for a special treat: an interview with Audrey Vernick!


Audrey Vernick, from her website



1) I know you're a baseball fan and have also written some nonfiction picture books about baseball (Brothers at Bat; She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story). What made you decide to write a novel about umpire school?

Long before there was instant replay in baseball, probably about seven years ago, there was one postseason in which the umpires got a lot of important calls wrong, calls that changed the outcome of games. Talk radio was buzzing with it. It made me wonder how umpires became major-league umpires. A little quick research revealed that they have to go to umpire school--there are two in Florida and all major league umpires started there. (Who knew?) I found it really intriguing, the mere fact that umpire schools exist.

Combine that fact with this:  I have a tendency to write too "quiet," to like character-driven work, which editors point out makes it hard for a title to stand out on their list. Knowing this about my writing self, I thought using an unusual setting might be enough to allow for a less-than-shocking-at-every-turn kind of plot. I don't enjoy reading plot-driven fiction, and I don't think I could even write it if I wanted to. Writing a book that takes place in an umpire school felt like it would give me a chance to write the kind of book I enjoy writing that might be publishable.


2) Well, you certainly hit it out of the ballpark with this one, Audrey. Could you tell us a little about your journey to becoming a published author? Did you start out writing picture books? If so, how difficult was the transition to middle grade novels?

Before I wrote for kids, I wrote literary short fiction. I published about a dozen stories in literary journals and magazines. I lived through the skin-hardening years of rejection then, for the most part. I switched to writing for children over a decade ago and the first book I wrote, Bark and Tim: A True Story of Friendship, was co-written with my sister Ellen Gidaro. It was an odd book, in that the illustrations kind of had to be the paintings of the artist Tim Brown, whom the book was about, so there we were--submitting a book complete with illustrations, the exact-wrong way to begin. It took a very long time to find a publisher--a small regional press in Tennessee. That book was published in 2003. My next book for children came out in 2010. I point to those seven years as my real learning curve.

There came a point where I wanted an agent to handle the submission side of things. There were so many fewer agents then than there are now, and the common thinking was that one needed to catch an agent's attention with a novel. Also, as the graduate of an mfa writing program, I always knew I'd have to write a novel SOME day. So I wrote my first one, Water Balloon. It was called Dandelion Summer then. It was hard. And I think writing novels is so hard. I remember the very tentative steps I took in the beginning, writing a chapter or two and needing to send it to a reader-friend right away, asking, "Is this how you do it?" The hard part, of course, is to keep doing it. When I had a finished, revised draft I found an agent and she submitted it widely and failed to sell it. It wasn't until many years later, working with my current (second) agent, that I decided to pull it out of the drawer and give it another try. I revised with an eye toward making it less quiet--not a lot less quiet, but enough. And I was lucky that the book found its meant-to-be editor, Jennifer Greene, at Clarion.

I find the process of writing picture books comes naturally to me. I have to work much harder on novels.


3) Oh, I agree. Writing novels IS hard! I'd love to hear about your writing process. Do you outline the entire novel before you write or are you a pantser? Or a little of both? Do you write every day?

Oh heavens, I have no real process. Over the years, I've learned to trust that when it's time to write, I'll write. (This could be classified, accurately, as deciding that it's okay to be undisciplined and possibly a little lazy). I do not outline, but I do like to have some idea about how my story will end, so I have a direction to write in/toward. I do not write every day. I go through patches when I work a lot--usually on several different projects. And when drafting novels, I usually have several 8,000-10,000 word days--awful words, to be clear, but words, to move me along, otherwise I'd never be able to do it. When I'm somewhere between halfway and two-thirds done, I usually try to come up with a list of scenes that will get me to the finish line. And I don't always write those in order.

My advice is to not conduct one's writing life the way I conduct mine.

4) I think you're doing just fine, Audrey. Everyone's writing process is different. Please tell us: what three MG authors have influenced you the most?
Three. Hm. Maybe I can do this. I can never pick a single favorite anything, but three?

My mom, Judy Glassman, wrote a wonderful middle grade novel, The Morning Glory War, which was accepted for publication a few months before she died (a sudden, unexpected death).
Lynne Rae Perkins wrote the book I wish I wrote in All Alone in the Universe.
Louise Fitzhugh, because I've probably reread Harriet the Spy more than any other book.


5) I’m so sorry to hear that about your mom, but how wonderful that you have her book. And I totally agree about Louise Fitzhugh! Now I'd better read All Alone in the Universe. For my final question: i
f you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Because one has to factor in how close one's family and friends would be, I think I'm pretty content to stay right here. A little over an hour outside of NYC (without traffic, as in, in a world that doesn't exist), very short drive to the beach, short drive to family.
Lucky you! Thanks so much for being here, Audrey!


Audrey's website

Find Audrey on Twitter

For other MMGM recommendations, see the links on Shannon's blog.

 


Monday, July 28, 2014

Wake Up Missing by Kate Messner for MMGM



Wake Up Missing by Kate Messner (Sept 2013, Walker Childrens, for ages 10 to 14)

Source: purchased from B&N

Synopsis (from the publisher):

Four kids . . . 

Two weeks in the Florida Everglades . . . 

One top-secret science experiment that could change them and the world as they know it . . . 

Meet Quentin, a middle-school football star from Chicago; Sarah, a hockey player from Upstate New York; Ben, a horse lover from the Pacific Northwest; and Cat, an artistic bird watcher from California.

The four have little in common except the head injuries that landed them in an elite brain-science center in the wild swamps of Florida. It’s known as the best clinic in the world and promises to return their lives to normal, but as days pass, the kids begin to notice strange side effects and unexplained changes


Why I recommend it: Wake Up Missing is a fascinating combination of futuristic science and old-fashioned adventure and mystery in the Florida swamps. The way the author managed to stir in traumatic brain injuries, a one-eyed alligator, a man who collects butterflies, and four kids from diverse backgrounds (and then season it all with a dash of political intrigue) makes for one remarkable dish. As an adult reader, I found the doctor's experiments a little far-fetched, but I could see my ten-year-old self eating this up. 

You might recognize Kate Messner as the author of the Marty McGuire series of younger chapter books (yay! I love Marty McGuire!), and from Capture the Flag and other novels.

Have you read Wake Up Missing? What did you think? And if you haven't read it, what recent mystery/adventure would you recommend?


Kate Messner's website

Follow Kate on Twitter


For other MMGM posts, see Shannon's links.

(Speaking of missing... I'll be missing from the blogging world for the next few weeks. I'll be back on Monday, August 18th. Hoping to finish a much-needed revision on my latest novel.)

Monday, July 21, 2014

CURIOSITY by Gary Blackwood for MMGM





Curiosity by Gary Blackwood (April 2014, Dial, for ages 9 to 13)

Source: library

Synopsis (from the publisher): Philadelphia, PA, 1835. Rufus, a twelve-year-old chess prodigy, is recruited by a shady showman named Maelzel to secretly operate a mechanical chess player called the Turk. The Turk wows ticket-paying audience members and players, who do not realize that Rufus, the true chess master, is hidden inside the contraption. But Rufus’s job working the automaton must be kept secret, and he fears he may never be able to escape his unscrupulous master. And what has happened to the previous operators of the Turk, who seem to disappear as soon as Maelzel no longer needs them? 

Why I recommend it: The Philadelphia connection drew me in (I was born in Philadelphia, as was my father and, in fact, both of his parents), but then I kept reading because, hey, it's Gary Blackwood (The Shakespeare Stealer) and he's a master of historical fiction filled with intrigue and atmosphere. What the synopsis doesn't tell you: first, Rufus is handicapped (but never makes a big deal out of it), and second, this novel is loosely based on true events. Johann Nepomuk Maelzel was a real person, the Turk was an actual invention in the age of steam, and Edgar Allan Poe (who plays a cameo here) really did write an essay about Maelzel's chess-playing automaton.

For links to other MMGM posts, visit Shannon's blog.


Monday, July 14, 2014

And the Winner of The Big Book of Superheroes is...

I'm happy to announce that according to randomizer the winner of The Big Book of Superheroes by Bart King is



GREG PATTRIDGE


Congratulations, Greg!  Look for an email from me asking for your mailing address. The publisher will then mail you the book.

I'll be back next week with a feature on Curiosity, Gary Blackwood's newest novel. Until then, happy reading. 


Monday, June 30, 2014

The Big Book of Superheroes by Bart King - and a Giveaway!





The Big Book of Superheroes by Bart King, illustrated by Greg Paprocki (April 2014, Gibbs Smith, for ages 9 to 12)

Source: hardcover review copy from the publisher

Synopsis (from the publisher): If you're wondering if you have what it takes to be a superhero--of course you do! All you need is a burning desire to fight evildoers. Oh, and also a secret identity, the perfect name, a cool costume, some terrific superpowers, and an archenemy. Actually, you know what? You better get this book. 


From The Big Book of Superheros by Bart King. Illustration by Greg Paprocki. Used by permission.


Why I recommend it: It's super fun! This book is chock-full of info, along with quizzes, crafts, and comics. It's tongue-in-cheek and even downright silly (and liberally sprinkled with exclamation points!) but always entertaining. Kids will lap this up, while you'll enjoy dipping into it. Think of it as Everything You Wanted to Know About Superheroes and How to Become One (But Never Thought To Ask). Did you know the first hero was a girl? Did you know going offline will help you develop a superpower? Did you know the greatest superhero saying wasn't said by a superhero?

When Bart King contacted me in May, I remembered all his previous books from the bookstore where I used to work. The Big Books of Boy Stuff, Girl Stuff, Spy Stuff, and Gross Stuff were always brisk sellers. 

Bart kindly agreed to answer three questions:

Bart working in his home office


1) Bart, if you could have only one superpower, what would it be, and why?

There was a time when I thought being “Dishwasher Safe” might be exciting. But now, I wish I had the power to travel 30 seconds into the future. This would set up delightful scenarios like...
—“How did Bart get in the front seat so fast? I was going to call shotgun!”
—“What the what?! Bart ate the last slice of pizza AGAIN?”
—”Bart, can you get the mower out and—hmm, he was here a second ago...”

Also, I should mention that kids who don’t read are my kryptonite. So I’d love to be able to shoot a beam (or write a book) that could persuade them to change their ways! :P



2) I think you may have done that with this book, Bart. So...who's your favorite villain?

Doctor Doom. 

Maybe Doctor Doom’s my favorite because he uses an entire country as his hideout, and the capital is called Doomstadt. Maybe it’s because the airport there is Doomsport, and the biggest local holiday is Doom’s Day.

Or most likely, Doctor Doom is my favorite villain because I wish that I could get away with wearing body armor and a green cape. :P



3) You started your writing career with a book for adults (An Architectural Guidebook to Portland). What made you switch to writing for children?


As a longtime middle school teacher, I tried to model the behavior I wanted from my students. So when I assigned an ambitious research paper to my 8th graders in 1997, I decided to do one myself. 

At that time, I was a newcomer to Portland (Oregon), and was curious about the civic history of the city. So I started researching specific buildings downtown, looking for common threads in terms of timelines, social events, architects, building styles, etc. 

While this may sound as dry as brick dust, I found myself looking at our “built environment” in a completely new way. And my classroom research paper eventually led to An Architectural Guidebook to Portland (Oregon State University Press). That book became a terrific prop for me to pull out when students said things like “Why do we have to do this?” about their writing assignments.

After the Architectural Guidebook, I pivoted to writing for kids. Like any teacher, I had reluctant readers...and I wanted to try to write books that appealed directly to them. (Also, I have a useful superpower: I’m incredibly immature!) 


Bart with a friend, from the official website

Thanks so much, Bart. Readers, what superpower would YOU choose? I would choose super speed-reading so I could get through my TBR list. 


From The Big Book of Superheros by Bart King. Illustration by Greg Paprocki. Used by permission.

Visit Bart King's website

Follow Bart on Twitter

Here's a great review from This Kid Reviews Books

And now for the giveaway! Gibbs Smith has generously offered a hardcover copy to one lucky winner. Sorry, but the publisher is limiting this one to continental US addresses only (hey, it's a heavy book).

Entering is simple: you must be a follower and you must leave a comment on this post. For extra fun, in your comment tell us what superpower you would choose (but only one!).

This giveaway ends at 10 pm EDT on Sun July 13. I'll let randomizer pick a winner, who will be announced on Monday July 14. Good luck!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Falcon in the Glass for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday


(Please note that I'm scheduling this post ahead of time, but I'll be flying back from a vacation, and probably won't be able to respond to comments or visit your blogs until Tuesday or Wednesday. Bear with me!)




Falcon in the Glass by Susan Fletcher (July 2013, Margaret K. McElderry Books for Young Readers, for ages 10 to 14)

Source: library

Synopsis (from the publisher): In Venice in 1487, the secrets of glassblowing are guarded jealously. Renzo, a twelve-year-old laborer in a glassworks, has just a few months to prepare for a test of his abilities, and no one to teach him. If he passes, he will qualify as a skilled glassblower. If he fails, he will be expelled from the glassworks. Becoming a glassblower is his murdered father’s dying wish for him, and the means of supporting his mother and sister. But Renzo desperately needs another pair of hands to help him turn the glass as he practices at night.

One night he is disturbed by a bird—a small falcon—that seems to belong to a girl hiding in the glassworks. Soon Renzo learns about her and others like her—the bird people, who can communicate with birds and are condemned as witches. He tries to get her to help him and discovers that she comes with baggage: ten hungry bird-kenning children who desperately need his aid. Caught between devotion to his family and his art and protecting a group of outcast children, Renzo struggles for a solution that will keep everyone safe in this atmospheric adventure. 


Why I recommend it: It's historical fiction that reads like a thrilling adventure story. If you like Karen Cushman, Gary Blackwood, or Linda Sue Park's A Single Shard, you'll love this book. The writing is gorgeous, and rich in sensory images. I've been a fan of Susan Fletcher since I read Shadow Spinner many years ago and her writing is masterful. Read this one to study how she handles third person.

Author's website

For other MMGM posts, see Shannon's links.


Monday, June 9, 2014

Do You Wanna Know a Secret?



I don't like every book I read.

There.

I said it.

It occurred to me that since I gush about (mostly) MG novels here on the blog, you might think I'm one of those readers who just love every single book they read. Without discrimination. It's-the-best-book-ever kind of adoration.

It's true; I do read a ton of books. And yes, I show enthusiasm for the ones I really love or even just like. I'll read historical fiction, fantasy, contemporary, mysteries, sci-fi, humor, thrillers. I'll read MG and YA and occasional adult books. I truly enjoy most of them.

But you rarely hear about the books I don't like.

Chances are if it's a zombie book, I won't like it (gives me nightmares, honestly!). If the narrator talks directly and incessantly to the reader in a condescending tone ("Dear Reader" this, and "Dear Reader" that), I probably won't like it. If the characters are all privileged pretentious snobs, I won't like it.

And if I feel I'm being manipulated, I definitely won't like it.



Courtesy of Jim Carrey GIFS for Every Occasion at The FW


I just finished reading a new and much-hyped novel and while I was definitely drawn in, I read it with a critical eye. The big reveal didn't shock me, because I knew from the hype that there was going to be a shocking twist, and my brain kept looking for it. When I finished the book I went back to page one. And started over. And I found several instances where the writer cleverly but unfairly (I thought) inserted some sentences that were clearly added to make you think one way. When the opposite was true.

Yes, I'd been manipulated. Which only the best writers can do well. But I HATE when it happens.

I mean, look at me. I ended up reading the book twice, even though I didn't like it very much. Crazy, no? You could argue that the author certainly succeeded.

(If you're curious and would like to know the title of said book, check off the little box that lets me email you directly and I'll let you know privately.)

Are they any types of books (without naming titles) that you don't like to read?