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Today I am honored to welcome Victoria Coe. She is the author of the amazing and fun Fenway & Hattie series which was just picked as one of the 2017 Global Read Aloud choices. We chat about pets, Beverly Cleary’s Ribsy, what makes an author visit go smoothly, and lots of other things! Take a listen.
We’ve been working on having you come on to the show for a few months now but I am actually glad that the timing worked out for now so that I could talk to you about the Global Read Aloud! I admit, I actually screeched when I saw the announcement that Fenway & Hattie was selected for 2017!
How did you find out that Fenway & Hattie was picked?
From the very first pages, I knew the Fenway & Hattie was a book that begged to be read out loud! Even when I was reading it by myself alone, I found myself mouthing the words and already figuring out where I would pause to let my students figure out what’s happening.
Could you tell us what the book is about for those listening who haven’t read it yet?
It wasn’t until I finished reading the book that I noticed the “1” written on the spine, so I was really excited to know that it will be a series and we’ll get to spend more time in Fenway’s world! I know the second one has come out already – Evil Bunny Gang.
Did I see that Book 3 was announced recently?
In Fenway & Hattie, one of the funny aspects of the story is the names that Fenway gives to the family. So, the dad is “Fetch Man” and the mom is “Food Lady”.
So – in your home, what would your pets call you?
There is just something about dog books that have the potential to connect so deeply with an audience. In fact, you wrote a post on the Nerdy Book Club site called “How Ribsy Changed My Life”.
What was it about that dog and that book that fascinated you?
I follow you on Instagram and Twitter and I have to say that I love and appreciate that you and so many authors share aspects of their life – your writing process, your inspiration, your frustrations sometimes! Recently I’ve seen a lot of pics of school visits.
What is a Victoria Coe school visit like?
So we have a lot of teachers and librarians listening who plan author visits.
What are some things that you appreciate and like as a visiting author?
One thing that I am always trying to encourage in my students is developing a rich reading life.
How do you make time for reading in your life and what have you read lately that you’ve really liked?
Two Fantastic new releases
In this section of the show, I share with you a couple books centered around a theme and discuss three things to love about each book. This week I want to share with you two fantastic novels just released last week. Both are books about the seismic changes that can happen when someone new comes into your life. They are Three Pennies by Melanie Crowder and Posted by John David Anderson.
by Melanie Crowder
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
I will start with Three Pennies by Melanie Crowder. This novel is about an eleven year old girl named Marin who was abandoned many years ago by her mother and has been bounced around the foster system in San Francisco since she was four. And she’s come up with these rules for survival which essentially boil down to this; BE INVISIBLE. Don’t bother the adults, don’t fight with other kids, but that makes for an incredibly lonely existence and a situation where a kid can all too easily get swept aside and forgotten. And at age 11, there’s little chance she’s going to get adopted. All Marin has from her mother are three things: fading memories, a ceramic piggy bank with one coin rattling inside, and a copy of the I Ching. Marin is constantly casting her three pennies and using the book to try to find her way back to her mother. But, the I Ching is also called The Book of Changes and Marin’s eleventh year is full of unexpected turns. Here are three things to love about Three Pennies:
- Dr. Lucy Chang! She is Marin’s latest foster parent – a kind but clinal woman. And single. The reason why she’s single comes out in a dinner conversation where Marin tries to be rude to Lucy (because she fears being adopted and losing hope of that reunion with her mother.) Lucy is a science-minded surgeon and precise, but I love how she uses that in the service of being kind toward Marin. For example, she shares these great analogies of the human body. Let me read you a couple.
- The owl in the story. Every few chapters we get a brief scene from the point of view of a young rehabilitated owl living among the tall buildings in San Francisco and observing what happens below. It’s a quieter and softer part of the book but I love how those chapters weave through the main parts of the story and especially how the owl connects and comes together with the other characters at the end.
- And I can’t talk about that owl without mentioning the stunning cover art by artist Victo Ngai. It is vibrant with the golds and warm browns of this owl with piercing teal eyes. It’s a stunner of a cover and the artist has done work for The New Yorker and The New York Times – and her work is amazing. I’ll post a link to her site in the show notes so you can check it out.
Three Pennies is a beautifully written and gentle book about finding family. If you have kids who might love One For the Murphys or Counting by 7s, but you want something a little shorter and maybe easier to read on that same theme, this book is a great option.
by John David Anderson
Walden Pond Press
Next up this week is a book I have been waiting to get my hands on – Posted by John David Anderson, who you might know from his most recent middle grade novel – Ms. Bixby’s Last Day. This story is about a tight-knit group of four middle school boys. Their nicknames are Frost, Bench, DeeDee, and Wolf. The story is told from Frost’s point of view. He earned his nickname (from Robert Frost) because he won a poetry contest in 5th grade. His parents are recently divorced. His close friend is Bench and he got his nickname because he’s always warming the bench for every team he’s on. He’s big and kind of their protector. No one messes with them when Bench is around. Then there is DeeDee who’s small, kinda geeky, dramatic and the Dungeon Master when they play D&D. Hence his nickname, DeeDee. And finally, Wolf. He is a lanky, quieter kid who’s a piano prodigy and got his name from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Each of them are kind of outcasts and outsiders in their own way. But – they have found each other – their tribe as Frost calls it – and support each other. Until a new girl, Rose, shows up and things get thrown into turmoil in unexpected ways. Interconnecting with that dynamic is the fact that all cellphones have been recently banned at Branton Middle School and post-its have become the new contraband form of communication. And what starts off as DeeDee posting fun sticky notes on his friend’s lockers snowballs into this mess of a situation where their friendship is really tested. This is one of those books that the more you read, the more you want to slow down and savor the story, the language – and just spend time with these characters. Well – some of them. There are so so many things I want to say to rave about this book! I have to limit myself to three – but honestly I could list at least 30. So, just as a small sample, here are three amazing things about John David Anderson’s Posted:
- How much Anderson GETS middle school and the inner life of middle school kids. Before coming to teach 5th grade in an elementary school, I was a 6th grade teacher in a middle school for 8 years. And I used to joke that middle school is the Social Serengeti. There are predators and prey and you better do whatever you can to get cover within a group. And Posted absolutely captures this. Frost calls it the Middle School Minefield. And, oh the antics these four boys get involved in! From making homemade dynamite in their driveway to accidentally microwaving a can of Spaghettio’s and almost burning down the house. These are the stories every kid can relate to – and I’m sure they have some similar ones of their own.
- How well Anderson builds suspense by withholding information and slowly revealing it in pieces later on. For examples, there are these various messages written on post-its throughout the story, phrases thrown at one of the characters, and an awful text that gets a girl suspended (which is the catalyst of the cell phone ban). Anderson doesn’t reveal what those messages are at first, but describes everyone’s reactions to it. Or he tells the consequences of a conversation, but the details come out more slowly – I LOVED it!Just like he did with Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, Anderson is masterful at sliding the pieces of the puzzle into your view until you start to see the picture yourself.
- How this book reminded me of the Netflix series Stranger Things. I know that sounds odd because they’re two completely different genres! But – both are about four close friends used to their own routines when a vulnerable yet powerful girl is suddenly in their midst. And how they handle that disruption and the decisions they make about who to protect could either fracture their friendship or bring them closer together. And – there’s lots of Dungeons & Dragons references!
When you get a new book by an author whose previous work blew you away, you’re almost expecting to be let down. Posted was everything I was hoping for, and I think this one might actually be even more of a winner with kids because the conflicts are centered so clearly on their lives. Ya gotta get this one!
Q & A
Our final segment this week is Question & Answer time.
This question comes from Annamaria on Twitter “Hi, @Books_Between I’m looking for “classics” to fill a bookcase in my classroom. Have Dahl, L I-Wilder, CS Lewis, few others. Rec’s? Thx!”
Alright – yes! Here are a few titles and authors you might want to add.
- The Indian in the Cupboard (and the sequels)
- Harriet the Spy
- All the Beverly Cleary books! (Ramona books, Ribsy books, Mouse & the Motorcycle)
- The Wizard of Oz series
- Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry
- The Wind in the Willows
- Where the Red Fern Grows
- A Wrinkle in Time – that one is also a series
- E. B. White (Charlotte’s Web, The Trumpet of the Swan, Stuart Little)
- The Hobbit
- The Hundred Dresses
- Louisa May Alcott (Little Women and Little Men)
- The Boxcar Children Series
- Christopher Paul Curtis (The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 and Bud, not Buddy)
- Black Beauty
- Lots of the E.L. Konigsburg (books like From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler)
- Frances Burnett’s The Secret Garden and A Little Princess
- Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys (Although I was more of a Trixie Belden girl!)
- Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle Series
- Some really like the Betsy-Tacy series – I haven’t read them but would feel remiss if I did not mention them
- Mary Poppins Series
- Anne of Green Gables books
- Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass
- All the Judy Blume books! (well, wait – careful, she does have some adult books out, but definitely Are You There God?, It’s Me Margaret, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Blubber)
You know, in looking at this list, there are so many that I grew up loving but I recognize that in many “classics” lists, the titles and authors do lack diversity and also, where you do find some diverse characters, they’re often not portrayed that well. So in considering including classics in your library, that is an aspect to think about.
So, listeners – I know I have forgotten some. What other “classics” would you add to this list and especially, what are some more multicultural “classics” that should be included? We will absolutely revisit this again with some updates.
Alright – that’s it for our show this week. If you have a question about how to connect middle grade readers to books they will love or an idea about a guest we should have or a topic we should cover, please let me know. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.
Also, we have just launched a newsletter! So if you are interesting in more middle grade goodness, I’ll post a link to sign up for that in the shownotes.
(Sign up for the Books Between Newsletter here!)
Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of the show along with all of our previous episodes at AlltheWonders.com.
Thanks again and see you in two weeks! Bye!