Monday, June 7, 2021

Brush Up On Your Shakespeare

I must really like Rajani LaRocca if my first post in a long time is dedicated to her. 

Rajani gets a star for being one of the happiest authors we've had on Author Fan Face-off. She was smiling and giggling all the way through. But don't be fooled.  Her giddiness did not distract her from nearly beating Astrid, her very deserving challenger for Midsummer's Mayhem.



A Midsummer's Night Dream is my favorite Shakespeare play. I had myself convinced that Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson (maybe?) were in the film I loved but after some searching I believe the movie I'm actually remembering is a 1993 version of Much Ado about Nothing.

Which appropriately leads me to Rajani's latest book that comes out next week, Much Ado about Baseball. Who can blame Rajani for her permagrin during AFF when her book was just featured on The Today Show. Make sure you click on the link to hear how Brad Thor gushes over her book. πŸ‘‡


I have reserved the book on Edelweiss and pre-ordered from Rajani's bookstore so one way or the other I will be reading it THIS MONTH. 

And speaking of Shakespeare and the Globe, check out this recent article from yesterday's New York Times about a socially distant Midsummer's Night Dream.

Yeah, so if you haven't guessed by now, I just want to be Rajani's friend and meet her for coffee. She's happy, funny and smart (yes, her day job is a doctor!). We are about the same age; both coming of age in the 1980s. You too? Be sure and read her beautiful novel in verse, Red, White and Whole which takes place during that time and brought back so many memories of middle school. The Spotify playlist is in my running rotation. I knew Rajani really didn't want to hear me say that her book is on my Newbery 22 list so bit my tongue as long as I could during our AFF filming. But, if you are one of our regular viewers, you will know that I'm pretty good at predicting winners (just ask Kelly Barnhill). In any event, add that book (and all her others) to your TBR if you haven't already. Then plug in your airpods and take a walk down memory lane. Oh and for Red, White and Whole--keep the Kleenex close. Don't say I didn't warn you.


Tuesday, April 13, 2021

yes & no

I have always been a crier. 

So it's no surprise that when a good day comes to an end, my tissues are close by. The sun sets and it's hard for me to imagine that another one is in the wings. And yet, there always is. Elisha Cooper's new book, yes & no brings up all these kind of feels and I have to say after several reads, I still get choked up at the ending.  

Paired with the good feels, this book also brings in a bit of that frustration I've definitely expressed many times early in my parental career. "Grrrr...Get outside and play. Now." 

In the end, this book of few words and even fewer varied text, is a true winner.  It's gorgeous. Fun. Funny. Sad. Gets your heart rate going. Offers a breath of fresh air and scenery. Wraps up so perfectly and honestly. Because I agree with the playful dog. "The day was good but now it's done." Sigh. yes...

So skip or run or leap to hilltop and scream, "YES. YES. YES. YES. yes. YES!" because this one is definitely a winner.

By the way, my kindergartners love it. They're riveted. And bonus, now they know what an ampersand is.



Two recent must read essays by Elisha:





Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Broadway Book Birthdays


Donning my Rialto Readers "Chief Bibliophile" hat once again. 

Today we don't have just one singular sensational middle grade book to celebrate, but two.  Crazy.  Thank you libro.fm for bringing the second one to my attention just this weekend. Fearless by Mandy Gonzalez is part of the complimentary audiobooks ALC program for librarians this month. And thank you to Simon & Schuster for answering my desperate call on Edelweiss for a review digital print copy!

CHANCE TO FLY

So...happiest of book birthdays to Chance to Fly by Ali Stroker and Stacy Davidowitz.  Missed my post about it? Click here.  And even though it's been nearly a month, I'm still very much enjoying my Broadway playlist. Side note: I didn't go full out green, but I did get green highlights last month. Paying homage to Elphaba? Maybe...

FEARLESS

Tween Monica from REEDLEY, CA arrives in NYC with her abuelita to join the cast at the Ethel Merman Theatre only weeks away from opening night. Hold ON--REEDLEY! No one has ever heard of it but can you believe I have! My in-laws live in Kingsburg, my father in law was the director of a Department of Agriculture citrus lab IN Reedley and my half sister works at that lab now! Oh, Mandy, I hope you are reading this--our stars are aligned and we are definitely meant to be friends!

Something is fishy at the Ethel Merman.  Monica ends up the lead (after initially cast as the understudy to the understudy) in Our Time a musical "about four friends--Tony, Froggie, Pax, and Crash--trying to figure out how to save their local arcade, the Tilt, from being bulldozed and turned into a luxury hotel." Hmmm...does this sound like a Tony winner?  Well, maybe not the play but the book definitely is. "One misstep can ruin the whole scene," Monica is told. There are no missteps here.

This will make a great read aloud for both thespians and non-thespians. It's about four friends conquering their fears and working together to solve a mystery and save their show. Of course there are lots of Broadway references (the "Old Broadway" ones make me feel old--yes, I still dress up for a show) but it's filled with so much more--friendship, family, detective work, rats, a trip to the performing arts library, ghosts, telegrams, #legacyrobes, the joy you get from doing something you love, hope... 

"Old Broadway, new Broadway. The entirety of it was mesmerizing. 
It embodied irrepressible optimism, joy, hope. 
When darkness comes, hold it, love it, learn to understand it. 
Let the darkness speak; don't shut it out."
This speaks not only to the novel and the play within the novel, 
but also to our current times.

"Time blurs when you're on Broadway." 
I love this quote because Broadway blurs time for all of us, 
actors and audience.

"...the theater is a place where stories are told and released into the world and given life...Sometimes the messages cross and stir up the energy of a place."  You'll have to read the book to see what kind of "energy" is stirred up and how that energy finally gives life back to the Ethel Merman.

This is being called a series so I'm guessing "the squad" returns for another show in another haunted theatre? Whatever it may be, my Rialto Readers and I will be ready! For now I hope you had a happy book birthday, Fearless! πŸŽ‚

Merci Suarez Can't Dance

On a side note, happy book birthday also to Merci Suarez Can't Dance. I love, love, love this book. Who knows, it may even end up on a Rialto Reader list some day. It's better than the first one (which happened to win a shiny gold medal lol). It's a year later and Merci has matured into a typical 7th grade girl. She's got a crush (maybe?); her grandfather's dementia is getting worse; her aunt has a romantic interest; she tries to cover up a mistake and solve the problem herself without her family finding out which we all know isn't the best idea; her little cousins are still annoying; and she can't dance (or can she?). Definitely, definitely put this one on your list.


ICYMI: Meg's Author Fan Face-off

 

 

 



Friday, March 12, 2021

Defying Gravity


I have been binge watching Ali Stroker on YouTube all week. Hold on. Ali Stroker is not a name in your cannon? Inconceivable! In 2019 she won the Tony Award for best actress in a musical. Talk about defying gravity! She's in a wheelchair and incredible! TBH, I didn't know who she was either until her amazing performance with her Oklahoma cast at the Tony's that year. But now she is "part of my world." Next month her debut middle grade novel written with Stacy Davidowitz, perfect for young theatre fans, will hit the shelves.

Theatre loving 13 year old Nat just moved from California to New Jersey leaving life with her BFF, Chloe, and her wheelchair racing world behind. When Dad drops her off for practice with a new racing team, she eyes a flyer announcing auditions for Wicked, her second favorite show only after Hamilton, at the JCC across the street.  The next day she skips practice, heads over to the Center and ultimately lands a role; her first ever! Instant friendships, a crush, drama with Savannah, the lead, misunderstandings with Chloe, an adorable dog aptly named, Warbucks, an unexpected fire, karaoke, Pinterest cupcakes, an overabundance of Broadway references (especially Hamilton with a special shout out to my personal number from the play, "Dear Theodosia") that only the serious theatre lover will appreciate...I wasn't surprised when I smiled often and got "Defying Gravity" stuck in my head, but that moment that I shed a tear kind of threw me.

Group chats between the Broadway Bounders theatre kids is a big part of the book.  I absolutely LOVE all their names, each referencing a show or song.  Nat's is "NatThrowinAwayMyShot." How can you not love that? Do the promotional items for the book include a t-shirt or a sticker for my computer with the chat names? Speaking of swag, I wonder about a playlist.  I thought about it too late into the book but started making my own "Chance to Fly" on Spotify.  Please don't judge me.  I tried to pick songs I could remember from the book and also just my favorites. What would Nat's playlist look like? And while you are cueing up songs, make sure the Wicked soundtrack is ready, especially for the end.  My chills were literally multiplying during that part.

"'I don't want to be the next anyone...I want people to want to be the next me.'" Nat tells her dad.  I couldn't help thinking was that 13 year old Ali speaking? What aspiring actress wouldn't want to be her now? 

Dear theatre gods can you please let Ali and Stacy know that I have an Annie story to tell, too, and would love to hang out and be their friend (I'll let it go that Stacy doesn't spell her name correctly). When I was in 4th grade, I was Miss Hannigan. I know! Kind of unbelievable considering the source lol. It was the only lead in a play I ever got.  I wasn't in it 17 times, but we can still be friends, right? PLUS--Ali and I share a birthday! So one a birthday and one a name. The three of us were meant to be!

Check out this video with Ali and Stacy. It's 30 minutes long but worth it!



PS: This was one of those "G-d-I-Hope-I-Get-It" moments and I did! I'm the "Chief Bibliophile" for Camp Broadway's Rialto Readers book club! Although we are still in our infant stage, it's going to be big! Readers can sign up here.  I'll be curating lists filled with books like Chance to Fly and so many others that kids like Nat and her Broadway Bounders friends will love. (PPS: Ali is a Camp Broadway alum--It was all meant to be!)



Sunday, February 28, 2021

Missing my People

This week brought to the forefront of my mind that I miss my people. 

We taped our 40th (?) #AuthorFanFaceOff episode featuring an 8th grader from Illinois with the sweetest smile ever vs. the amazing and wonderful, Rita Williams-Garcia.  I look forward to seeing "my people" every Monday. Our show gives so much joy to both the young challengers (although sometimes it may be hard to tell), the authors and to us, the hosts. The line up continues to be stellar.  Shameless plug--please subscribe and share if you don't already. 

This week reminded me how much I miss sitting side by side with my people and getting wow-ed by a keynote speaker. We learned about Jacqueline Woodson in third grade.  We watched her read The Day You Begin, illustrated by our Castleton Elementary School friend, Rafael Lopez, and researched her from one of my favorite databases, FactCite.  I love her recitation of the book. It never got old, even on Friday.  Unrelated but related, the fifth grade ELA teacher was looking for a new read aloud.  I met up with her with a pile of amazing books in my hands (many AFF episodes and or authors: One Crazy Summer, The Crossover, 14th Goldfish, The Parker Inheritance) and some not. Coincidentally, she chose Woodson's Harbor Me. Who knows? Maybe someday she will move into the AFF category...

Tuesday I was on a virtual panel through School Library Connection with four AH-MAZING school librarians.  It really made me wonder how I landed there, honestly. But I reminded myself the message from Woodson's reading of The Day You Begin that we are all fabulous. So yeah, great to be with my people on the panel and "see" folks in the chat, too.  Don't worry if you missed it! Check it out here.

It's been a long while since I took my hair down with my fellow librarians.  Slight tangent here--Just on the topic of hair, one third grader told me this week that it is time for me to see my hairdresser. Indeed, my hair needs to be colored and the appointment was rescheduled twice but alas, Wednesday is the day! From the mouths of babes, eh? Thursday night, the New York Library Association sponsored a fundraiser with Big Ditch Brewing Company in Buffalo.  It was fun to see familiar faces, including a guy who was in my very first graduate school class. At the time, I wasn't sure I was ready to take the leap into librarianship.  He and the other cool, smart and kind folks in that class definitely had an impact on my new career path.

I miss book festivals and conferences with my people. About an hour before it was to begin, I registered for the "Anderson's Book Shop Children's Literature Breakfast" yesterday morning and am so glad I did.  I multi tasked and only missed about 15 minutes of the whole event. Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is amazing period. Dan Santat had me laughing out loud in my not-Prius while I was driving to not buy some quinoa. Gary Paulsen had us all in tears. And the conversation between Meena Harris and Andrea Beaty was inspiring. I plan to spend a lot of money on books later today.

Today is Sunday. I am looking forward to this week (and not just because I am planning to get my hair cut and colored with turquoise highlights).  We have two great AFFs scheduled Monday and Tuesday.  My second grade lesson plan is about Teresa Carreno, a Maragita Engle book illustrated by Rafael Lopez. My Newbery Navigators chose to begin reading one of my all time faves, Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead. So even though I may not be seeing my people in person, this week's virtual challenges alongside the written and illustrated pages of friends will definitely do for now.

BONUS:

The 38th Episode with Lisa Graff and three former students of mine:


The Day You Begin:


From Dan Santat's Twitter, a glimpse into A New Day by Brad Meltzer (book birthday Tuesday!):



Saturday, February 13, 2021

STARFISH

Author Lisa Fipps posted on Twitter the other day a picture of a jar with slips of paper in it.  "Every time someone says something good about STARFISH, I print it off and place it in the jar," she tweeted.  Perhaps this blog post will warrant a print out? 

There are so many things I love about this book in spite of the fact that I had a really hard time reading the bits about Ellie's brother and her mom. But that's what makes the book good, right?  When I fall hard (or don't fall, in this case) for my characters I love it. So many strong feelings one way or the other. Just ask my friend, Alicia. Ellie's mom does everything to get her to lose weight from posting things on the fridge to wanting her, at 12, to get bariatric surgery. And her brother is one of her worst bullies.  It's not that they were unbelievable, just hard for my heart to believe, you know? But, enough about them--Who do I love? Ellie, of course. Her dad. Ahhh...Her old BFF and her new BFF. Yes, the old adage, "make new friends but keep the old" totally fit here, drama free and it worked. Her Doc got a big heart in my notes. I even like her sister, who is trying.

Speaking of hearts, IπŸ’œ Julie Murphy and KA Holt and I feel like if you "shipped" (do they still use that term these days?) those two together, you would get Lisa Fipps.  Her verse is so en pointe, like Holt's. And she's got all the fabulous feels of all the Murphy novels I love. Plus all three write in Texas. Period. End of sentence.

Back to mom...there are good mom memories. "I guess I cling to those moments/like a drowning girl to a life preserver/whenever Mom's words/gut me like a fish." Wow. I just wish Ellie didn't have to endure it for so long. Eventually, with the help of Doc she stands up for herself beginning with tossing the family scale. "Untrue, negative thought:/The higher my weight,/the lower my value./True, positive thought:/A scale does not/determine my worth." All I wanted to do was yell, "You got this, Ellie!"

I highlighted a lot more quotes from the book. Trust me they are good.  Take the time you would have read them here to preorder STARFISH now.  I say it's a strong Newbery 2022 contender. Now, the big question: Will my words leap into your jar, Lisa? πŸ˜‰ 🀞

 

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Snow Day Book Birthdays

The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S (as told by his brother)

Last weekend everything came to a stop. All I did was read David Levithan's first middle grade novel, The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S. (as told by his brother). Nothing else got done.  Don't tell me I didn't warn you. I also could not stop talking about it. I'm glad my 18 year old daughter was still home from college and humored me as I filled her in on Lucas and Aidan's story.  "Did you find out any more details?" "What do you think happened?" She was as much into it as I was. I even told my 5th and 6th grade "Newbery Navigators" about it and they were hooked. I'm happy it is out in the world today.

As you can imagine, the search parties are out in full force when 7th grader Aidan disappears. Day after day, they keep looking.  He reappears on Day 6 with an unbelievable story. Page after page, I wondered. Is it true? Could this happen? I seriously questioned reality. I tried to genrify the book. Is it fantasy? Realistic fiction? I needed to know and therefore could not stop reading.  And to this day, I am still wondering.

It's a story about brothers, believing the impossible (or the possible), family, accepting who you are and what you have. I wish it the happiest of book birthdays and promise me if you read it that you will get in touch with asap so we can talk.

HILO: Gina the Girl Who Broke the World

It is so sad to have a HILO book birthday without a party.  But dear, Judd Winick, know that I was thinking of you and Chase today and cannot wait for your "Author Fan Face-off" next month! YES! The 7th HILO comes out into the world today and as always, we welcome it with big open arms. Hooray! Stay tuned for mid-March when Chase's challenge will be up on our AFF YouTube channel.  I already know it will be a good one. Go Chase! πŸ˜‰

Ground Zero: A Novel of 9/11


I know little about this book except that because it is by Alan Gratz, it will be gripping and one that kids will devour.  It's hard to find a middle grade reader (and librarian) who doesn't love anything that Alan writes.  While you are waiting for it to arrive in your mailbox or SORA shelf, check out our Author Fan Face-off with Alan vs. 8th grader Evan, a former student of mine.  Evan was a huge fan of Alan's since, I believe 4th grade.  I knew when we got Alan confirmed that Evan had to be his challenger.  You won't see it in the video, but I actually cried during our filming because it was so cool to connect Evan to his favorite author. (See above: I will have Kleenex nearby for Chase's challenge, too).


ICYMI here the Grenade challenge:


And a few more that I am either completely intrigued about from social media (Red, White and Whole by Rajani LaRocca), love the duo (Milo Imagines the World by Matt de la Pena and Christian Robinson), always want to support the author (EngiNerds Strike Back by Jarrett Lerner) and ANOTHER Yasmin book to add to the already fabulous collection (Give it a Try, Yasmin! by Saadia Faruqi and Hatem Aly). Yay! Happy Book Birthday all!