Monday, April 24, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM --1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis

THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM --1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis  (January 1995)

Even though I'm the Middle Grade Mafioso, there are gaps in my reading. (I know, what a shocker!) I'd never read anything by Christopher Paul Curtis, but that has been rectified now because my 4th-grader was reading The Watsons Go To Birmingham, 1963 for a class project, and we read it together. I loved it!

What It's About:
Enter the hilarious world of ten-year-old Kenny and his family, the Weird Watsons of Flint, Michigan. There's Momma, Dad, little sister Joetta, and brother Byron, who's thirteen and an "official juvenile delinquent." When Momma and Dad decide it's time for a visit to Grandma, Dad comes home with the amazing Ultra-Glide, and the Watsons set out on a trip like no other. They're heading South to Birmingham, Alabama, toward one of the darkest moments in America's history.

Opening Lines:
"It was one of those super-duper-cold Saturdays. One of those days that when you breathed out your breath kind of hung frozen in the air like a hunk of smoke and you could walk along and look exactly like a train bowing out big, fat, white puffs of smoke."

Things I Loved About It:
Well, first, my 4th-grader was captivated by it. It really has "all the feels" as they say. It's at times comic, at others pretty harrowing. The relationship between Kenny and his older brother Byron is complicated but, at the end, we see that Byron, despite all his adolescent demons, really has his eye out for his younger, more tender brother.

As a supporter of living parents in middle grade, this novel gets an 'A' from me. The parents are an integral part of their kids' lives (as parents really are in the majority of families) and they were also realistic characters.

The wider society might have been preoccupied with race relations at this time, but they are peripheral to Kenny (whose focus is mainly on his family and school, and trying to avoid bullies) until the scene in Birmingham (I won't spoil it for you) when the reality of what black Americans have had to face comes to the fore.

I'll let my 4th-grader have the final word: "It was entertaining. I could visualize what happened, and the time period."

About the Author: (from Random House Kids)
Born in Flint, Michigan, Christopher Paul Curtis spent his first 13 years after high school on the assembly line of Flint’s historic Fisher Body Plant #1. His job entailed hanging car doors, and it left him with an aversion to getting into and out of large automobiles—particularly big Buicks.

Curtis’s writing—and his dedication to it—has been greatly influenced by his family members. With grandfathers like Earl “Lefty” Lewis, a Negro Baseball League pitcher, and 1930s bandleader Herman E. Curtis, Sr., of Herman Curtis and the Dusky Devastators of the Depression, it is easy to see why Christopher Paul Curtis was destined to become an entertainer.

Christopher Paul Curtis made an outstanding debut in children’s s literature with The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963. His second novel, Bud, Not Buddy, is the first book ever to receive both the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Author Award.

 Christopher Paul Curtis and his wife, Habon, have three children, Steven, Cydney, and Ayaan. He lives in Detroit, Michigan, with his family.




Thursday, April 20, 2017

One Good Thing About America by Ruth Freeman (Blog Tour)

Welcome to Day #9 of the One Good Thing About America Blog Tour!
To celebrate the release of One Good Thing About America by Ruth Freeman (3/14/17), blogs across the web are featuring exclusive content from Ruth and 10 chances to win a copy of One Good Thing About America, as well as a chance to win a Skype visit with Ruth in the Grand Prize Giveaway!
Shelfie by Ruth Freeman
Here’s a “shelfie” of me in front of one of my bookshelves. Travel books, history, novels, photograph albums and…children’s books! A few of the stranger ones are books left over from the research I did for my nonfiction books. The Philosophy of the Bed was for Bedtime, the picture book I did on the history of beds. And The Corset was one book I used when I was doing research for my book: Underwear: What We Wear Under There. I could talk about books and reading for ever but I don’t want to keep you that long. So, I wanted to show you my very, very favorite children’s books… When I read a book, I love going somewhere else, a place I’ve never been. Going on some kind of adventure. I love to find a book where the author uses words so well that you can believe the story is real. I will never go to Narnia, but I can tell you exactly what it feels like to be there with Peter, Edmund, Susan and Lucy. I will never live in the Plaza Hotel like Eloise, but I know her well enough to love her and Nanny. Reading brings us all these amazing experiences! I learned about being brave and making do in the Little House books, I learned about mean, wicked people in James and the Giant Peach and the Black Arrow, I learned about love in Charlotte’s Web. Books bring us whole worlds we will never know, but we learn so much from them about life and what is means to be a human being.
    *****
    Stop by The Hiding Spot tomorrow for the last stop on the tour!
    Blog Tour Schedule:
    April 10th – Geo Librarian April 11thLate Bloomer's Book Blog April 12th Mrs. Mommy BookNerd April 13thKristi's Book Nook April 14thLife Naturally April 17th – Books My Kids Read April 18th – Chat with Vera April 19th Word Spelunking April 20th – Middle Grade Mafioso April 21st – The Hiding Spot
    Follow Ruth: Website | Facebook Publisher: Holiday House
    ONE GOOD THING ABOUT AMERICA is a sweet, often funny middle-grade novel that explores differences and common ground across cultures. It's hard to start at a new school . . . especially if you're in a new country. Back home, Anaïs was the best English student in her class. Here in Crazy America she feels like she doesn't know English at all. Nothing makes sense (chicken FINGERS?), and the kids at school have some very strange ideas about Africa. Anaïs misses her family . . . so she writes lots of letters to Oma, her grandmother. She tells her she misses her and hopes the war is over soon. She tells her about Halloween, snow, mac 'n' cheese dinners, and princess sleepovers. She tells her about the weird things Crazy Americans do, and how she just might be turning into a Crazy American herself.
    About the Author: Ruth Freeman grew up in rural Pennsylvania but now lives in Maine where she teaches students who are English language learners, including many newly arrived immigrants. She is the author of several acclaimed nonfiction picture books. One Good Thing About America is her first novel..





    GRAND PRIZE GIVEAWAY
    • One (1) winner will receive a signed copy of One Good Thing About America for their personal collection, as well as a 30 minute Skype visit with Ruth Freeman to the school of their choice and a signed copy for the school's library.
    • Enter via the rafflecopter below
    • US Only
    • Ends 4/23 at midnight ET
    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    Monday, April 17, 2017

    What's Up in Mafiosoland

    Okay, it's officially that time of the year when I go "where the heck is the time going?!" Mid-April, already, folks!! I'd like to think the Don and I have been setting the world to rights, or strolling through the olive groves during our spring holidays, but it's actually been nose to the grindstone in my other official role as family chauffeur.

    Those of you familiar with the Mafioso brood may remember that I have three sons. The oldest is in college, but the younger two are both still at home. Middle is a thespian and his latest play--ROBIN HOOD at Portland's Northwest Children's Theater--is about to start performances this week. (A LOT of driving to rehearsals and such.) Youngest is a basketball and baseball player, and we have been attempting to play baseball during what may turn out to be our wettest spring on record. They've played two games, and finally won a game for the first time in two years. O sweet victory! You'd have thought they'd won the World Series from all the carrying on.

    In between, I've been trying to write my novels, keep Project Mayhem up-and-running, and reading all sorts of adult books for my various book groups. (One of the novels being The River Why, which I first read 20 years ago. It bears reading again!) Here's one quote I've just read:

    "Always it is the same; it is the greedy, the cruel, the ungrateful that bring down suffering upon the people."
                                                                    -- Thomas Bigeater

    I do have a busy few weeks coming up, as I've been invited to take part in several blog tours. There will be a post this coming Thursday when I will be featuring Ruth Freeman's ONE GOOD THING ABOUT AMERICA.

    I would love it if you would drop by on the 20th, to learn about  Ruth 's novel, and for the chance of winning an ARC.

    Till then, you'll find me behind the wheel. Ciao!

    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/