Monday, March 20, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Cover Reveal for ETHAN MARCUS STANDS UP by Michele Weber Hurwitz





















One of the Don's and my favorite authors is the talented Michele Weber Hurwitz. We've loved (and reviewed) both her previous novels, Calli Be Gold and The Summer I Saved The World in 65 Days.

So we were thrilled when Michele contacted us and asked if we'd be interested in revealing the cover for her new novel, Ethan Marcus Stands Up. You bet your socks we were!!!

Michele also told us what she liked about the cover.

But first, here's what ETHAN MARCUS STANDS UP is about:

Seventh-grader Ethan Marcus is fed up with sitting in school, and one day, enough is enough. He doesn't cause trouble or wander around, he just refuses to stay seated in class. His spontaneous protest doesn't go over so well with his rule-oriented teacher so Ethan is sent to the principal's office, and then is given two days of "Reflection" -- McNutt Middle School's answer to detention. When the faculty advisor suggests Ethan channel his energy into the school's Invention Day, at first Ethan says thanks but no thanks. He's never been a science-y kid. That's his Irish twin sister Erin's department. Except when Ethan and his friend Brian decide to give it a try, they realize they might have something. And it's good. Maybe great. But can they actually pull it off? 

Ethan Marcus Stands Up -- narrated by five different kids -- shows how we all may have labels that define us, but that doesn't mean we can't step out of our comfort zone and attempt a new challenge. And, along the way, we may just learn from someone who sees the world from a different perspective. 

Middle Grade Mafioso: Well, I certainly can relate. Sitting is hard!

The Don: What are you talking about? You sit around all day long. By the way, what's an Irish twin?

MGM: (Googling) It means a pair of siblings born less than 12 months apart.

The Don: Mamma Mia. I feel for their poor mother!

He was, I could see, on the verge of a sermon. I whipped out Michele's new cover. Dear Readers, we are all seeing it for the first time.

 Here's what Michele has to say about it:

The cover was designed by Laura Lyn DiSiena and Hugo Santos. There are three elements I love about the cover. First, the bright colors really jump out and give it a fun, bold feel. Second, I like the double image of the boy. He's obviously unhappy sitting at the desk, then he's all smiles with his arms in the air and the chair knocked over, so I think readers will want to know what happened to change the situation. And third, I love the font for the title. If you look closely, there are nuts and bolts and a fun springy thing, as well as a wood grain look to some of the letters. This was meant to convey the feeling that making something is part of the story.

I can't wait for ETHAN MARCUS STANDS UP to be released. The big day is August 29, 2017 from Simon & Schuster/Aladdin Books (hardcover). A sequel will be coming out in 2018.

You can find more information about Michele Weber Hurwitz on her website, micheleweberhurwitz.com


Monday, March 6, 2017

Dear Reader, What Should I Read Next?


Boy, it's been a while since I read a middle grade book--due to the fact that my book group recently read Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. (Over 600 pages!  Definitely not middle grade!)  I've also been working my way through The Artist's Way for a second time, and that's led me to check out all sorts of books on creativity. At this rate I'll need a new bedside table for the stacks!

Which got me to thinking that I need to get back into my middle grade groove. So, I headed to the library last week and grabbed a bunch off the shelves. But now I've found myself dithering about which ones to read. I thought it would be fun to have my loyal readers chime in. Below, you'll find the first lines from my selections. Please note in your comment which one you would be most tempted to read. (Bonus points if you can figure out any of the authors.)

Here goes:

#1: It all began on one of those days--one of those stupid days when absolutely everything goes wrong. First thing in the morning, when Tom tried to put on his jeans, he found his darling sister had knotted the legs.

#2: My little sister, Sam, knelt on the sofa, staring out the window. Our next door neighbors moved off base last week, and she was watching for our new neighbors to arrive.

#3: Papi had pretty much promised to stop bringing Tia Perla to Saint Scholastica school, but when the last bell rings on a Monday afternoon, there she is just the same, waiting for me in the parking lot: Tia Perla, yet again.

#4: On Monday, at exactly noon o'clock, our teacher, Mrs. Pellington, took us to the auditorium. She said there was a special surprise coming, but when we got there, we only saw other kids. It is a scientific fact that seeing other kids at school is not a surprise.

#5: My dad always says "Charlie Bumpers, your closet looks like a tornado came through and decided to live there."

Monday, February 27, 2017

Blogging over at Project Mayhem today

The mafioso is over at his other blog, Project Middle Grade Mayhem, today--confessing all about his current experiences with The Artist's Way and reading deprivation week.

He's love it if you would beetle on over there, if you have a minute to spare from the usual Marvelous Middle Grade Monday features. He'll be back with an MMGM next week!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: MATILDA by Roald Dahl

MATILDA by Roald Dahl (first published by Jonathan Cape in 1988)

What It's About (via Goodreads): 
Matilda is a little girl who is far too good to be true. At age five-and-a-half she's knocking off double-digit multiplication problems and blitz-reading Dickens. Even more remarkably, her classmates love her even though she's a super-nerd and the teacher's pet. But everything is not perfect in Matilda's world. For starters she has two of the most idiotic, self-centered parents who ever lived. Then there's the large, busty nightmare of a school principal, Miss ("The") Trunchbull, a former hammer-throwing champion who flings children at will and is approximately as sympathetic as a bulldozer. Fortunately for Matilda, she has the inner resources to deal with such annoyances: astonishing intelligence, saintly patience, and an innate predilection for revenge.


She warms up with some practical jokes aimed at her hapless parents, but the true test comes when she rallies in defense of her teacher, the sweet Miss Honey, against the diabolical Trunchbull. There is never any doubt that Matilda will carry the day. Even so, this wonderful story is far from predictable. Roald Dahl, while keeping the plot moving imaginatively, also has an unerring ear for emotional truth.

Opening Lines:
"It's a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful."

My Thoughts:
Every so often at Middle Grade Mafioso, I present a classic. MATILDA was on the Oregon Battle of the Books reading list this year, and my son and I read it together. He couldn't believe how hard I was laughing. I was in tears!

Maybe this is because I'm originally British, and the book skewers a particular type of bullying British person. Matilda's parents are horrid, and Miss Trunchbull is an amalgam of all the hideous bullies Roald Dahl met as a small child in a British boarding school. She's vicious, self-centred, and prone to outbursts of violence. (Dahl's autobiography BOY: TALES OF CHILDHOOD gives one an unerring insight into what life was like in early 20th century British education.)

Many adults in a Dahl novel are ghastly. It seems as if he had an insight into how a child might see the world of adulthood and all its fearsomeness. Children, in his novels, can also be awful (think of the self-centred bunch who accompany Charlie into the chocolate factory.) But there's always one--Matilda, Charlie, James--who stands for something more noble, who has not fallen prey to the soullessness of modern life (Dahl can't stand the "telly," or "the dreaded box" as he sometimes calls it. I shudder to think about how he would react to the ubiquity of modern screens!) Personally, I think that's why generations of children have loved Roald Dahl's writing. In his heroes and heroines, they can see themselves fighting the good fight against bullies, braggarts, and goggle boxes.

Here's an excerpt from his poem TELEVISION. You can read the whole glorious thing HERE:

So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books,
Ignoring all the dirty looks,
The screams and yells, the bites and kicks,
And children hitting you with sticks-
Fear not, because we promise you
That, in about a week or two
Of having nothing else to do,
They'll now begin to feel the need
Of having something to read.
And once they start -- oh boy, oh boy!
You watch the slowly growing joy
That fills their hearts. They'll grow so keen
They'll wonder what they'd ever seen
In that ridiculous machine,
That nauseating, foul, unclean,
Repulsive television screen!

About Roald Dahl:
Born in 1916, Roald Dahl was a British novelist, short story writer and screenwriter of Norwegian descent, who rose to prominence in the 1940's with works for both children and adults, and became one of the world's bestselling authors.

His first children's book was The Gremlins, about mischievous little creatures that were part of RAF folklore. The book was commissioned by Walt Disney for a film that was never made, and published in 1943. Dahl went on to create some of the best-loved children's stories of the 20th century, such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and James and the Giant Peach.

Roald Dahl died on November 23, 1990.

Website: http://roalddahl.com/





Monday, January 30, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: GHOST by Jason Reynolds

GHOST by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, August 2016)

Another great "sports" book. (And a middle grade finalist for this year's Cybils award.)

What It's About (via jacket copy):
RUNNING. That's all that Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But never for a track team. Nope, his game has always been ball. But when Ghost impulsively challenges an elite sprinter to a race--and wins--the Olympic medalist track coach sees he has something: crazy natural talent. thing is, Ghost has something else: a lot of anger and a past that he tries to outrun. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed and meld with the team, or will his past finally catch up to him.

Opening Lines:
Check this out. This dude named Andrew Dahl holds the world record for blowing up the most balloons... with his nose."

Five Things To Love:

  1. #WeNeedDiverseBooks is being embraced by the publishing industry, and I loved that this book is written by a black writer, and features a black male protagonist. The language and point of view was so authentic.
  2. Track and field. One of my favorite sports. I was a sprinter on my high school track team, and this took my right back to the feelings of being part of a team and of running fast.
  3. The theme. As it says on the front cover, "is Ghost running for his life, or from it?" In my opinion it could be both. His life is certainly tough, and he has been badly traumatized by a supposed loved one. Being part of the track team allows him the chance to find his way in the world.
  4. Male role models. The biggest wound in Ghost's life was caused by his father. Therefore, it is fitting that he should be fathered/mentored so well by the shop-keeper, Mr. Charles, and Coach. I loved the interactions between Ghost and these two important men in his life.
  5. Ghost's voice. As you can see from the opening lines, Ghost is humorous, engaging, and honest about what's going on in his life. His voice drives this short beauty of a novel. I was so hooked that, right after I finished it the first time, I turned once again to the first page and read it once more.
About The Author:
Jason Reynolds earned a BA in English from The University of Maryland, College Park. His novels include All American Boys (written with Brendan Kiely), The Boy in the Black Suit (both which were Coretta Scott King Honor books; When I was the Greatest, which won the 2015 Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent; and As Brave As You. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, 


Monday, January 9, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: BREAKING THE ICE by Gail Nall

BREAKING THE ICE by Gail Nall (Aladdin, January 2015)

I am a big fan of middle grade sports books (I'm currently reading one--GHOST by Jason Reynolds--and writing one myself. Mine's about tennis.) I read this for the Cybils awards in 2015, and really enjoyed it!

What It's About (via Goodreads):
Kaitlin has always dreamed of being a champion figure skater, and she’s given up a lot to pursue her passion. But after having a totally uncharacteristic and decidedly NOT figure-skating-approved tantrum after getting her scores at a major competition she’s dropped by her coach and prestigious skating club.

When no other club in town will have her, she's forced to join the ridiculed and rundown Fallton Club, jokingly referred to as the Fall Down Club. At first Kaitlin thinks this is a complete disaster, but after meeting some of the other skaters, including a boy (who happens to have the most perfect hair she’s ever seen) Kaitlin thinks it might actually not be so bad.


But when she’s tasked with learning a whole new program right before Regionals and figures out that almost all the other skaters target Fallton, she thinks joining the Fall Down Club may just be the second biggest mistake she’s ever made.

Opening Lines:
"I have my fingers crossed for a gold medal.
Not where everyone can see them, of course, but hidden in the sleeve of my maroon-and-white Ridgeline Figure Skating Club jacket. If I win this competition, it'll show the judges I'm the skater to beat at Regionals in October."

Four Things To Love:

  1.  I can't say I'm a diehard skating fan, but I do like to watch competitions like the Olympics and the World Championships. I also know what a salchow, a lutz, and a toe loop are. One of the riveting things about watching skaters compete is, as in gymnastics, the mix of artistry with power. And, with every jump, you have your heart in your throat, hoping there won't be a disaster. Which is all to say that I enjoyed the subject, and I think many sports-minded readers would do too.
  2. The character of Kaitlin. Technically strong, she needs to develop her artistry. Inwardly, she can be tempestuous (though not brattily so), so we know she can do it. Her concerns--about friendship and fitting in--are appropriately middle grade too.
  3. The friendships. In her former club, Kaitlin has a friend, Ellery, who is really what I've heard called a 'frenemy.' Ellery is superficial and drops Kaitlin like a hot potato when she is forced to change clubs. In the new club, Kaitlin finds people who are more worthy of friendship (Miyu). Gail Nall did a great job depicting this most important middle grade theme. 
  4. The parents. Both Kaitlin's mom and dad are alive. (You know my feelings about MG 'orphan syndrome.')
BREAKING THE ICE was Gail Nall's middle grade debut, and it was a good one. As you can see in her bio below, she is quite prolific!

About The Author (from Goodreads bio):

Gail Nall lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her family and more cats than necessary. She grew up skating, and as a teenager working at the local rink, she rented skates and made nachos (but not at the same time). She spends her early mornings writing contemporary middle grade fiction, her days writing grants for a non-profit, and her evenings reading and trying to stay up past eight o'clock. Her obsessions include hiking and camping, travel, history, and food. Gail's middle grade novels include BREAKING THE ICE and the YOU'RE INVITED series (co-written with Jen Malone), all from Aladdin/Simon & Schuster. She is also the author of the YA novel, EXIT STAGE LEFT (EpicReads Impulse/Harper). Her upcoming books include OUT OF TUNE (Aladdin/S&S, 11/8/16) and the co-authored BEST.NIGHT.EVER. (8/15/17)

CONTACT: Website  Facebook  Twitter


Monday, January 2, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: THE WOLF WILDER by Katherine Rundell


US Cover
I'm back, after a hectic December, and have a treat with which to start 2017. I hope you enjoy it!

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell (Bloomsbury Children's September 2015)

What It's About (via Goodreads):
Feodora and her mother live in the snowbound woods of Russia, in a house full of food and fireplaces. Ten minutes away, in a ruined chapel, lives a pack of wolves. Feodora's mother is a wolf wilder, and Feo is a wolf wilder in training. A wolf wilder is the opposite of an animal tamer: it is a person who teaches tamed animals to fend for themselves, and to fight and to run, and to be wary of humans.


When the murderous hostility of the Russian Army threatens her very existence, Feo is left with no option but to go on the run. What follows is a story of revolution and adventure, about standing up for the things you love and fighting back. And, of course, wolves.


UK Cover

Opening Lines:

"Once upon a time, a hundred years ago, there was a dark and stormy girl.
The girl was Russian, and although her hair and eyes and fingernails were dark all the time, she was stormy only when she thought it absolutely necessary. Which was fairly often.
Her name was Feodora."

Five Things to Love: 

  1. Setting. I love stories set in Russia, especially in the snow.
  2. The character of Feo. She is brave, determined, and has an incredible bond with the wolves she is wilding
  3. The wolves. They are powerful forces and, although the idea is for them to be brought back to their wildness after spending time being accoutrements to the Russian aristocracy, they are fiercely protective of their "wilder."
  4. The other children in the novel. They include a boy soldier who wants to be a ballet dancer and who defects to accompany Feo and the wolves, as well as a band of peasants, lovingly described. Their entry in the novel brings both companionship and comedy, with Feo on the run and fearing for her life.
  5. The writing style. It is written to sound almost like a fable. There are beautiful descriptions--here's an example: "The girl would have been extraordinary whatever the weather. A blood-red cloak, freshly washed, flapped behind her. Her forearms, from elbow joint to wrist, were covered in scratches and bruises, but her eyes were gold. The set of her chin suggested she might have slain a dragon before breakfast. The look in her eyes suggested she might, in fact, have eaten it."
About the Author:
Katherine Rundell was born in 1987 and grew up in Africa and Europe. In 2008 she was elected a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. Her first book, The Girl Savage, was born of her love of Zimbabwe and her own childhood there; her second, Rooftoppers, was inspired by summers working in Paris and by night-time trespassing on the rooftops of All Souls. She is currently working on her doctorate alongside an adult novel. TWITTER
She recently wrote an article in The New York Times about tightrope walking. There's also an interesting article on her published in 2014 by The (London) Daily Telegraph.

Katherine Rundell atop All Souls College, Oxford
(photo by Andrew Crowley)