Monday, August 19, 2019

MERCI SUÁREZ CHANGES GEARS for MMGM






 Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina (2018, Candlewick Press, 368 pages, ages 9 to 12)


Synopsis (from the publisher):  Merci Suárez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she had no idea just how different. For starters, Merci has never been like the other kids at her private school in Florida, because she and her older brother, Roli, are scholarship students. They don’t have a big house or a fancy boat, and they have to do extra community service to make up for their free tuition. So when bossy Edna Santos sets her sights on the new boy who happens to be Merci’s school-assigned Sunshine Buddy, Merci becomes the target of Edna’s jealousy. Things aren't going well at home, either: Merci’s grandfather and most trusted ally, Lolo, has been acting strangely lately — forgetting important things, falling from his bike, and getting angry over nothing. No one in her family will tell Merci what's going on, so she’s left to her own worries, while also feeling all on her own at school. In a coming-of-age tale full of humor and wisdom, award-winning author Meg Medina gets to the heart of the confusion and constant change that defines middle school — and the steadfast connection that defines family.

Why I recommend it: This delightful book won the 2019 Newbery Medal -- and definitely deserves it. I'm still playing catch-up with my reading (and probably will be forever!), but I don't mind when I get to read something as heartwarming as this. Merci's close-knit Cuban-American family is her saving grace when middle-school life gets complicated. The author portrays a large, loving family, flaws and all. Merci, who tells the story in first-person, is a wonderful character, so real and full of life. And her dismay at Lolo's health problems will make you love her even more.

Favorite lines (from p. 23): "Lolo and I always talk after school. ... And when I talk, Lolo isn't like Mami, who says things like give it a chance or look on the bright side or learn to ignore small things and all that basura that makes me feel like it's my fault that my day was a hunk of smelly cheese."  (Note: there is no glossary, so I had to look up the word "basura", which means trash! Although it is pretty obvious from the context.)

Visit Meg Medina's website


For other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts, please visit Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle.






Monday, July 8, 2019

A TIME TRAVELER'S THEORY OF RELATIVITY by Nicole Valentine

From Nicole Valentine's website


Hi, everyone! I'm excited to introduce my author friend Nicole Valentine, whose debut MG novel, A TIME-TRAVELER'S THEORY OF RELATIVITY pubs in Oct 2019. 

Here is my interview with Nicole:



1) Hi, Nicole and welcome to My Brain on Books! Why don't you start by telling us about your debut novel, A TIME-TRAVELER'S THEORY OF RELATIVITY, coming Oct 1, 2019 from Carolrhoda Books, an imprint of Lerner.


Thank you so much for having me!

A TIME-TRAVELER'S THEORY OF RELATIVITY is about a very practical, science-loving boy who discovers the family secret: all the women in his family can time travel. I have been fascinated with time travel since I was a child and this story explores not just the adventurous side of being able to travel in time, but all the emotional and moral conflicts that would arise. I describe it as A Time Traveler’s Wife meets Tuck Everlasting. While there is plenty of page-turning adventure inside, it is also a heartfelt story about family and loss.

The official description:

Twelve-year-old Finn is used to people in his family disappearing. His twin sister, Faith, drowned when they were three years old. A few months ago, his mom abandoned him and his dad with no explanation. He clings to the concrete facts in his physics books and to his best friend, Gabi to cope with his sadness. But when his grandmother tells him the family secret: that all the women in their family are Travelers, he realizes he has to put his trust in something bigger than logic to save his Mom.


2) What came first: the character of Finn, or the story idea? And how long did it take you to write this impressive novel?

The story idea came to me when I was twelve or thirteen, shortly after my father died. Like most children dealing with grief, I desperately wanted everything to return to normal. Being the grand and complicated thinker that I was, I headed to books about time travel. It seemed like the most logical solution: go back in time and warn my father about his undiagnosed heart problem. I read every time travel novel I could get my hands on. I began forming the story I wished I could find, eventually it morphed into this book. I’ve written many things in-between, but this book has been with me the longest. It isn’t easy writing a novel, it’s even harder to write time travel. It takes a lot of work and well, time, to get it right.

Nicole Valentine, from her website



3) Wow! That's quite a journey. And a touching background story, Nicole. Have you always wanted to be a writer? Please share your writing journey with us.

I have for as long as I can remember. My elementary school librarian published a humorous poem of mine on a mimeographed newsletter that went home to parents. After that I decided I wanted to keep making things that made people Feel with a capital F, whether it be laughing or crying.


4) Your agent is Linda Epstein at Emerald City Literary. Please tell us how you found her. 

After graduating with my MFA from Vermont College, I attended SCBWI events and met many agents along the way. I met Linda at NESCBWI where she was presenting. I really liked her style. I wasn’t ready to query yet, but I made a note to remember her when the time came. I highly recommend new writers do this. Keep track of everyone you meet and take notes about your meeting. I used an online tool called Insight.ly for this and it became invaluable when I was finally ready to query.


5)  That's wise advice. Tell us about your cool website and especially SteaMG, the Middle Grade Sci Fi Authors Alliance.

Well, as you can probably tell from my childhood story, sci-fi books hold a special place in my heart. When I was searching for books about time travel as a kid, I didn’t discover the secret to turning back the clock, but I did discover awe. Those books filled me with wonder and gave me hope. I want to make sure more books in the tradition of A Wrinkle in Time and When You Reach Me continue to be written and placed in the hands of young readers.

I’ve been reading about awe a lot in the last several months. I realized that was what moved me as a young girl and I found it only in the pages of books. Psychologists are just now beginning to study the emotion of awe and its benefits on the human brain and body. Subjects in psychological studies report a feeling of having more time available, increased generosity, and decreased aggression. Awe generates empathy. Scientists have found that awe also combats stress in an empirical way. I know it was awe that saved me. We need more books that bring hope through inspiring awe. SteaMG is about highlighting those books. It's also about honoring fiction that is inspired by science and STEM. I personally think our world could benefit from more adults who have a reverence for scientific thought. Reaching middle grade readers is one way to start. 

SteaMG has been wonderful in not only finding like-minded librarians and teachers, but helping us as authors connect and organize our efforts. I could not be happier with how it’s turned out. We are adding new authors in June and the site will continue to grow with new features.

6) And is there another MG sci fi in the works? Or perhaps a YA?

I am sticking to middle grade for the time being. I’m currently writing another heartfelt sci-fi middle grade about UFOs. It will have readers searching for meaning in everyday occurrences and looking up at the night sky very carefully.

Thank you, Nicole! Readers, here is Nicole's info:

You can link to my website at nicolevalentinebooks.com and my twitter @nicoleva

My book can be preordered anywhere books are sold.

Monday, May 6, 2019

A Teaser for Nicole Valentine's debut novel, A TIME TRAVELER'S THEORY OF RELATIVITY, Coming in October 2019

Hi everyone! I won't be around for the next two months. I'm having brain surgery this week.

Yes, you read that right.

My third aneurysm, which is unruptured, will be repaired so it can't rupture as the first two did. I'm confident that I'll be in good hands. The recuperation period should be about a month, but I'm taking some time after that to get back to doing normal things again.

Like reading and writing!


I'll be back in July with an interview with a young woman I'm proud to call my friend, debut author, Nicole Valentine, whose MG sci fi novel, A Time Traveler's Theory of Relativity pubs October 1, 2019, from Carolrhoda Books/Lerner. It's garnering plenty of praise already --  and it's a Junior Library Guild selection! Congratulations, Nicole!






Here's a teaser (i.e., the official description):

Twelve-year-old Finn is used to people in his family disappearing. His twin sister, Faith, drowned when they were three years old. A few months ago, his mom abandoned him and his dad with no explanation. He clings to the concrete facts in his physics books and to his best friend, Gabi, to cope with his sadness. But when his grandmother tells him the family secret: that all the women in their family are Travelers, he realizes he has to put his trust in something bigger than logic to save his Mom.

_____________________________________________________

I'll see you on the other side.

In the meantime, please visit other Marvelous MG Monday posts found at Greg Pattridge's blog, ALWAYS IN THE MIDDLE.




Monday, April 15, 2019

April is National Poetry Month -- how do you celebrate?


Sadly, I've neglected reading poetry during this national month celebrating Poetry. But now I'm reading an inspiring novel in verse. 

Does that count?



From portersquarebooks.com 



White Rose by Kip Wilson (April 2, 2019, Versify/HMH, ages 12 and up)

Synopsis (from Indiebound): Disillusioned by the propaganda of Nazi Germany, Sophie Scholl, her brother, and his fellow soldiers formed the White Rose, a group that wrote and distributed anonymous letters criticizing the Nazi regime and calling for action from their fellow German citizens. The following year, Sophie and her brother were arrested for treason and interrogated for information about their collaborators. This debut novel recounts the lives of Sophie and her friends and highlights their brave stand against fascism in Nazi Germany.

Why I recommend it: The verse is spare and simple and gorgeously written. Interestingly, the narrative jumps back and forth in time, but even my injured brain is having no trouble following it. Keep in mind this is YA. It's a somewhat difficult, though perhaps timely, subject.

Bonus: This novel in verse was written by a young woman I met at the Highlights Foundation in 2017. So proud of you, Kip!


Favorite lines (so far, from p. 46):  

                                        It's been five years since
                                        Herr Hitler's thundering rise
                                        to power, and
                                        in that time so much has
                                        changed in our small city:
      
                                                  red flags draped
                                                             over offices, schools, homes
                                                  armed soldiers blocking entrance to
                                                             Jewish businesses
                                                  thick, hard dread
                                                              spilling over the streets
                                                              sharp as glass.


________________________________________


If you're looking for more traditional posts for National Poetry Month:

Please visit Jan Godown Annino at Bookseedstudio and Linda Mitchell at A Word Edgewise.

(And coincidentally, I met them both at Highlights, in 2016!)



Monday, April 8, 2019

THE LAST LAST-DAY-OF-SUMMER by Lamar Giles for MMGM






The Last Last-Day-of-Summer by Lamar Giles (April 2, 2019, Versify, 304 pages, for ages 8 to 12)


Synopsis (from Indiebound): Otto and Sheed are the local sleuths in their zany Virginia town, masters of unraveling mischief using their unmatched powers of deduction. And as the summer winds down and the first day of school looms, the boys are craving just a little bit more time for fun, even as they bicker over what kind of fun they want to have. That is, until a mysterious man appears with a camera that literally freezes time. Now, with the help of some very strange people and even stranger creatures, Otto and Sheed will have to put aside their differences to save their town—and each other—before time stops for good.


Why I recommend it: This is lively, fast-paced and funny, with plenty of kid-like humor. A winning combination. Heck, even I want to live in a town like Fry! There's a Gnarled Forest where trees never have leaves, an Eternal Creek, with no beginning or end, and strangers arrive through shimmering portals. All this is perfectly normal for Fry.

The cousins make a great crime-solving team. Before the story begins, they've already solved several cases like The Laughing Locusts, and The Mystery of the Woman in Teal. Wish we could read about those cases too! But freezing time is a great concept and Lamar Giles has a vivid imagination.


Favorite lines:  "(Otto) looped an arm over Sheed's shoulder, hoping his cousin didn't have his usual awkward smile. Their picture had been in the Logan County Gazette a bunch of times, and Sheed always looked like he was trying to suck broccoli from his teeth."


Lamar Giles is a founding member of We Need Diverse Books, and the editor of FRESH INK! Visit his website.



Here's Greg Pattridge's take on The Last Last-Day-of-Summer from March 24, 2019.

For other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts, visit Greg's website.




Sunday, March 31, 2019

UPDATE to my March 25th post about THE BRIDGE HOME by Padma Venkatraman

Remember my last post, a review of THE BRIDGE HOME by Padma Venkatraman?


Courtesy Penguin Random House Audio


I'm pleased to announce THE BRIDGE HOME has been chosen as the Middle School Read-Aloud by The Global Read-Aloud ("One Book to Connect the World"). 

If you're a teacher, you can sign up here (the link may not work yet; it was showing the 2018 sign-up and you need the 2019) .

I'm thrilled for Padma!


Monday, March 25, 2019

THE BRIDGE HOME by Padma Venkatraman



The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman (February 5, 2019, Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House, 208 pages, for ages 10 and up)

This beautifully written novel, set in modern-day Chennai, India, follows two sisters, Viji and Rukku. After their father abuses their mother, who refuses to leave him, and then attacks both girls in a drunken rage, Viji convinces her special-needs sister Rukku to run away with her and live on the streets. Eleven-year-old Viji misses school, but realizes they can never go back.

Life on the streets is much harder than Viji anticipated, until they receive food from the kind wife of a cafe owner. Seeking a place to sleep, the girls discover a crumbling, abandoned bridge, where two homeless boys, Arul and Muthi, are already living. The boys welcome them and give them a tarp for a tent. They also teach the girls how to earn money by picking through stinking trash heaps for useful metals and other items they can sell to the junkman. Well, Viji works in the trash heaps, while Rukku plays with a puppy who followed them.

But it's Rukku who ends up earning the most money by making beautiful bead necklaces out of the beads the cafe owner's wife gave them. College girls buy the pretty necklaces and all four children get to feast that day. The children almost enjoy their homelessness, knowing they're in charge of their own lives. But when Rukku and Muthi both become sick, Viji and Arul realize they need to trust an adult.

There is both sadness and sweetness in this gorgeous novel, written as one long letter from Viji to Rukku. You know right from the start that there's a reason the girls are separated but you won't know what it is for most of the book. Viji is a wonderful character, full of resilience and love for her sister.

This timely, important, and life-affirming novel not only makes an inspiring read but would be an excellent addition to classrooms and libraries. See also Melissa Sarno's Just Under The Clouds (my review here), about homelessness and special-needs sisters.

Favorite lines (from p. 48): "Sleep well in your new home," Arul said.
     We crawled into our tent. I took out the book Parvathi Teacher had given me and strained my eyes, trying to read in the semi-darkness, but I could hardly make out the words. I put the book away and thought of how kind she had been to us.
    "When I grow up, I want to be a teacher," I told you.


                    ________________________________________________


I'm honored to have met and learned from the brilliant Padma Venkatraman at two Highlights Foundation workshops! I've now read all four of her novels published in this country, and look forward to whatever she writes in the future. Please visit her website: Padma Venkatraman for more information.