Wishful Adoption

I met Addie last summer. She rode around in the car with me, and I fell in love with her 12-year-old self. She is funny, resilient, and in need of love and a stable home. I would have adopted her on the spot, if it had been possible.

Months later, I’m still thinking about her. I’ve actually caught myself wondering how she’s doing. That might seem reasonable, except for the fact that Addie is not real.

She’s actually the main character in the middle grade novel WAITING FOR NORMAL, which I listened to on CD.

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From Goodreads:

Addie is waiting for normal.

But Addie’s mom has an all-or-nothing approach to life: a food fiesta or an empty pantry, jubilation or gloom, her way or no way.

All or nothing never adds up to normal.

All or nothing can’t bring you all to home, which is exactly where Addie longs to be, with her half sisters, every day.

In spite of life’s twists and turns, Addie remains optimistic. Someday, maybe, she’ll find normal.

Leslie Connor has created an inspiring novel about one girl’s giant spirit. waiting for normal is a heartwarming gem.

I meet a lot of characters in books that I’d like to know in the real world, but Addie was and is special to me. One reviewer called her a “21st century Pollyanna” (like it was a bad thing!) which helped me realize why I loved her so much. She takes these crap situations life keeps throwing at her, and she never stops believing things might turn out okay.

I also fell in love with the two people who run the gas station across the street from Addie’s trailer. Both Sula and Elliot are well-crafted examples of how small acts of kindness can make a big impact on someone’s life. Addie’s stepfather is also a rock-star, someone you hope does exist in the real world, because you know he’s so needed. But most of the time, Addie’s mom’s erratic behavior made me want to reach into that book and pluck Addie out so she could safely stay with me.

Oh, Addie. Yes, I will adopt you.

The problem is, you will have to share a bedroom with 9-year-old Ada. Ada’s mom makes Addie’s mom look like a PTA committee chairwoman. Like Addie, I met Ada when she spent a few weeks riding around in the car with me. (Maybe my problem is listening to these stories via CD – I hear the character’s ‘voices’ and become convinced they’re real?) Again, we have a special child fighting crappy odds. But then WWII gets layered on. I became frantic wondering how I could fast track Ada’s adoption.

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From Goodreads:

An exceptionally moving story of triumph against all odds set during World War 2, from the acclaimed author of Jefferson’s Sons and for fans of Number the Stars.

Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.

So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?
 
This masterful work of historical fiction is equal parts adventure and a moving tale of family and identity—a classic in the making.

Ada is the opposite of a Pollyanna. She never really expects anything good to happen at all. And when good things do happen, she is deeply mistrustful. Being treated with kindness is especially hard for her. The descriptions of how her caretaker Susan (who never asked for or wanted Ada and her brother) deals with Ada’s outbursts and anxieties are beautiful, and wild, and real. The author really does an amazing job of showing the good, the bad, and the ugly of what happens when someone opens their home and heart to a child who has been wounded emotionally.

I’m not sure I could have done as good a job as Susan in helping Ada, so it’s probably best my adoption plans did not go through. Plus, it may have been hard to time travel back to the 1940s. But in my mind, Ada lives at the horse farm down the road, and Addie is a just a few hours car ride away. I wish I could have them both here, so I could give them the hugs I’ve been saving up for them. I thank Leslie Connor and Kimberly Brubaker Bradley for writing these stories and introducing me to these two exceptional girls.

A TIME TO DANCE – Interview with author Padma Venkatraman

 

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Have you ever read a story and wished you could ask the author questions about it? That is what happened to me while reading A TIME TO DANCE by Padma Venkatraman. And guess what? My wish came true! A hearty welcome today to Ms. Venkatraman, who graciously agreed to give us a behind the scenes peek at how this beautiful book came to be.

First, a bit about the story itself. Here is an overview, from Goodreads:

Padma Venkatraman’s inspiring story of a young girl’s struggle to regain her passion and find a new peace is told lyrically through verse that captures the beauty and mystery of India and the ancient bharatanatyam dance form. This is a stunning novel about spiritual awakening, the power of art, and above all, the courage and resilience of the human spirit.

Veda, a classical dance prodigy in India, lives and breathes dance—so when an accident leaves her a below-knee amputee, her dreams are shattered. For a girl who’s grown used to receiving applause for her dance prowess and flexibility, adjusting to a prosthetic leg is painful and humbling. But Veda refuses to let her disability rob her of her dreams, and she starts all over again, taking beginner classes with the youngest dancers. Then Veda meets Govinda, a young man who approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit. As their relationship deepens, Veda reconnects with the world around her, and begins to discover who she is and what dance truly means to her.”

Bharatamatyam is a classical dance form of South India. Here’s an example:

As I read A TIME TO DANCE I was especially carried away by the description of the dancing itself. So, the first question I asked was:

Nancy: What is your experience with Bharatanatyam dance? As I was reading, I was guessing you must have personal experience. Am I right?

Thank you for your time and for sharing your process with us, Padma! I encourage all readers to make time for A TIME TO DANCE. It’s gorgeous.

 

Book Bravo: The Meaning of Maggie

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Have you ever wondered what Clementine, Ramona, or Junie B. would be like in middle school? I hope they would stay spunky and turn out a lot like Maggie Mayfield, the main character in Megan Jean Sovern’s THE MEANING OF MAGGIE (Chronicle Books, 2014). In any case, I know they’d be friends with her!

Maggie is someone I was rooting for from the minute she wished her hospitalized dad would wake up so they could split a Little Debbie. (She’s willing to eat the whole thing herself, but she’d rather share). Then, I just – plop – fell in love with her when she was describing how amazing her first day of sixth grade was, including this:

“And lunch was the best because I got a whole table to myself so I spread out my notebooks and went to town on a stack of syllabi.”

She’s quirky, she doesn’t fit in, and she doesn’t care! She has much bigger things on her mind, such as her report on Sandra Day O’Connor, and her new friend, Clyde, “the most beautiful boy I’d ever seen.”

Underneath this layered, interesting character is a story of family bonds that are tested by parental illness.  From the jacket flap:

Eleven years old. The beginning of everything!

For Maggie Mayfield, turning eleven means she’s one year closer to college. One year closer to voting. And one year closer to getting a tattoo. It’s time for her to pull herself up by her bootstraps (the family motto) and think about more than after school snacks and why her older sisters are too hot for their own good. Because something mysterious is going on with her cool dude Dad, whose legs have permanently fallen asleep, and Maggie is going to find out exactly what the problem is and fix it. After all, nothing’s impossible when you’re future president of the United States of America, fifth grade science fair champion, and a shareholder in Coca-Cola, right?

Maggie’s position as youngest child and her own personality leave her somewhat oblivious to the true reality of her dad’s worsening struggle with multiple sclerosis. She doesn’t have much time for her “hot, but not on a school night” older sisters, Layla and Tiffany, but we as readers can see how they  help shelter her from their dad’s illness and mom’s return to work.

This is a serious book on a difficult topic, but the author makes you laugh out loud along the way. Maggie’s inner dialogue, highlighted by footnotes, made me feel like I was visiting with a real kid every time I picked up the book.  And there is a clever connection at the ending, which made this a “clutch it in your arms and sigh when you finish reading it” kind of book for me.  I recommend this book for kids in grades 5-7 ish, (or anyone who loves realistic middle grade novels.) It will  be especially meaningful to readers who have been touched by MS. Ultimately, the unpredictable and relentless nature of the disease is woven into a story of strength and hope.

Don’t miss MAGGIE!

*Special thanks to  Alyson Beecher and her wonderful book-based blog, Kid Lit Frenzy, for offering a copy of TMOM as a prize via Chronicle Books.*

 

 

THE PRANK LIST; Interview with children’s author Anna Staniszewski

Welcome Anna Stanizewski, whose latest novel, THE PRANK LIST (Sourebooks) will be released July 1, 2014!

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Anna is the author of many books for children and young adults, including:

THE UNFAIRY TALE LIFE SERIES

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THE DIRT DIARY SERIES

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..and two upcoming picture books from Henry Holt: POWER DOWN, LITTLE ROBOT (2015) and DOGOSAURUS REX (2016). 

Needless to say, Anna is one busy writer! However, I’m happy to say she had the time to answer a few of my questions about herself, her writing, and THE PRANK LIST.

To start, here’s a little history (some dirt?) from Anna’s website on book one in The Dirt Diary Series, THE DIRT DIARY (Sourcebooks, 2014):

Eighth grade never smelled so bad.

Rachel Lee didn’t think anything could be worse than her parents splitting up. She was wrong. Working for her mom’s new house-cleaning business puts Rachel in the dirty bathrooms of the most popular kids in the eighth grade. Which does not help her already loser-ish reputation. But her new job has surprising perks: enough dirt on the in-crowd to fill up her (until recently) boring diary. She never intended to reveal her secrets, but when the hottest guy in school pays her to spy on his girlfriend Rachel decides to get her hands dirty.

And now, the wait is nearly over to find out what trouble Rachel gets into next, in THE PRANK LIST. Again, from Anna’s website:

Rachel never thought she’d fight for the right to clean toilets, but she has to save her mom’s business. Nothing can distract her from her mission – except maybe Whit, the cute new guy in cooking class. Then she discovers something about Whit that could change everything. After destroying her Dirt Diary, Rachel thought she was done with secrets, but to save her family’s business, Rachel’s going to have to get her hands dirty. Again.

Nancy: Congratulations on your latest series, The Dirt Diaries! How do you approach writing a series?  That is, how much is done on the sequels before book one is even sent out?

Anna: The timing of a series can make your head spin! With the Dirt Diary series, the second book was done before the first one was published and the third book is in copyedits right now, a couple of weeks before the second book comes out. It can be a little confusing to jump between writing one book, promoting another, and planning out yet another, but it’s also really exciting.

Nancy: Your main character, Rachel, seems like the kind of girl that would be easy to relate to. I think we’ve all had times when our good intentions were misconstrued, or flat-out backfired.  How much of Rachel comes from your own experiences?

Anna: The antics that Rachel gets up to are purely fictional. (I’ve always been far too much of a rule follower to pull pranks on people!) But Rachel’s emotions and quirks are based on real life. I was very shy when I was young, and I always felt like I was doing and saying the wrong thing. I took those feelings from middle school and exaggerated them for Rachel’s story.

Nancy: Again, like many people, Rachel seems to have trouble resisting requests from cute boys. A couch potato at heart, I once went on a weeklong hike (and lost many toenails) because of a crush.  Do you have your own “what was I thinking?” story that stems from wanting to please someone?

Anna: Haha, I cringe even thinking about this, but I once pretended to be into a whole type of music because I thought it would impress a boy. I bought CDs of bands I didn’t like and forced myself to listen to them. Luckily, my ears couldn’t take it after a few days and I gave up. 🙂

Nancy: Rachel works as a house cleaner to help out her mom’s new business.  I’ve done that job, and it was hard, and kind of awful. What was your first job? What has been your hardest/worst job?

Anna: One of my first jobs was at a bagel place where I worked the registers, toasted bagels, and helped make sandwiches. During lunchtime, there was literally a line out the door every single day. I liked the people I worked with, but I would come home exhausted, reeking of coffee, and totally sick of bagels. I also worked for a temp agency during college, and at many of my temp jobs (doing data entry, answering phones, etc) people would talk about me right in front of me as if I wasn’t there. It was mortifying and belittling. I have a feeling both of those jobs have worked their way into my books. 🙂

Nancy:  When you were in eighth grade, what were your favorite kinds of books?

Anna: In eighth grade I went through a huge Stephen King phase. I tore my way through The Dark Half, The Shining, etc. The darker the better! I still enjoy a good dark read these days, but I think my taste in books has lightened up a bit since then.

Nancy: If you could time travel, and you had two minutes with your eighth grade self, what would you tell her? (I know for me, I would take at least a few seconds of that time to say for heaven’s sake, enough with the perms!)

Anna: Haha, yes, I think I would have some words for bad hair and fashion, too! But I think ultimately I’d tell my eighth-grade self that it’s okay to be weird. When I was young, people would tell me I was a weirdo (because of my sense of humor, my non-permed hair, etc) and I would let it cut me down. Now I realize that weirdness is an asset. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to write the books I do!

To find out more about Anna Staniszewski (including how to say her last name!), her books, and her writing process,  visit her gorgeous and fun website, www.annastan.com.

THE PRANK LIST is available for pre-order via AmazonB&NPowell’sBook Depository, and Indiebound

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Bio:

Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. Currently, she lives outside Boston with her husband and their crazy dog. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time reading, daydreaming, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. She is the author of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series and the Dirt Diary series. Her newest book, The Prank List, releases on July 1st from Sourcebooks. You can visit Anna at www.annastan.com.

 

Tough Topics, Great Books

When life’s tough topics come into our homes, we search for answers in many places.  How many worries have been Googled in the lonely hours of a long, dark night?  We also turn to friends, family, acquaintances – anyone who may have had experience with this “thing,” this unwelcome guest that is spread out in the spare bedroom and looks to be staying awhile.

When we’re facing a life challenge, books can often be a particular comfort, especially for children. Books give us a chance to examine our problem through the safety of someone else’s eyes.  How did they feel? How did they react?  There is also such healing power in the message you are not alone.

Cynthia Lord is a Newbery Honor author who embraces big topics, and weaves them into charming stories for middle grade readers.

 

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Her latest book, HALF A CHANCE (Scholastic Press, 2014), uses the idyllic premise of spending a summer on a lake in New Hampshire as a backdrop for exploring how dementia can affect a whole family.

From Goodreads:

When Lucy’s family moves to an old house on a lake, Lucy tries to see her new home through her camera’s lens, as her father has taught her — he’s a famous photographer, away on a shoot. Will her photos ever meet his high standards? When she discovers that he’s judging a photo contest, Lucy decides to enter anonymously. She wants to find out if her eye for photography is really special — or only good enough.

As she seeks out subjects for her photos, Lucy gets to know Nate, the boy next door. But slowly the camera reveals what Nate doesn’t want to see: his grandmother’s memory is slipping away, and with it much of what he cherishes about his summers on the lake. This summer, Nate will learn about the power of art to show truth. And Lucy will learn how beauty can change lives . . . including her own”

HALF A CHANCE is a good resource for kids who are struggling to understand the confusing and sometimes scary topic of dementia.  However, the story also celebrates the simple joys of summer lake living.  I think this book will bring a lot of comfort to many families.

You may recognize Cynthia Lord’s name because of her 2007 Newbery Honor Book, RULES (Scholastic Press, 2006).  If you missed this one, be sure to check it out.

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From Goodreads:

Twelve-year-old Catherine just wants a normal life. Which is near impossible when you have a brother with autism and a family that revolves around his disability. She’s spent years trying to teach David the rules-from “a peach is not a funny-looking apple” to “keep your pants on in public”-in order to stop his embarrassing behaviors. But the summer Catherine meets Jason, a paraplegic boy, and Kristi, the next-door friend she’s always wished for, it’s her own shocking behavior that turns everything upside down and forces her to ask: What is normal?”

The characters in RULES push through challenges on a daily basis.  My favorite character is Jason, who communicates by pointing at word cards in a book he balances on the tray of his wheelchair.  As Catherine gets to know Jason, she helps him expand what he is able to say by making word cards for him that go beyond stock phrases like “sad” to things like “stinks a big one!!”

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Catherine helps her younger brother navigate the world, and helps Jason express himself.  But of course she learns just as much, if not more, from them.

The real grace of the way Cynthia Lord writes is that she is able to take daunting, life changing challenges and remind readers that in every situation, there are things to celebrate and give thanks for.  Put these two on your “to be read” pile!

I won my copy of HALF A CHANCE thanks to Debbi Michiko Florence at DEBtastic Reads.  Thanks also to Cynthia Lord, who signed it over to the students at Hebron Avenue School, where it will have a permanent home.

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Walk The Line

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When I was around 12 years old, my family went on a camping trip “out west.”  Among other things, we stopped at Four Corners, where four states (Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado) come together in one place.  I remember feeling strangely powerful, like I had accomplished something, when I stretched out arms and legs to be in all four states at once.  But it also made me think about how intensely small my place in the world was.  I was a speck, tinier than a grain of sand.

Twelve-ish is a time for feeling both big and small, isn’t it?  Last week I went to a middle school celebration ceremony (the students had completed their Drug Abuse Resistance Education program).  During the evening, each 6th grader was presented with a certificate.  As the kids crossed the stage, I marveled at the variety of shapes and sizes and types I saw.  Some looked like they should be back in elementary school, some looked like they could drive themselves home!  Sneakers and haphazard ponytails shared the stage with high heels and make up.  The dichotomy of this time of life – you are little, and you are big – swirled around me.  It was beautiful.

Pianist Paul Sullivan composed an emotional song that captures this tricky time, called Clara’s Dance.  He was inspired to write it when his young son’s babysitter was in this season of life.  Give it a listen – your heart will tug.

The dance of the pre-teen played out before my eyes again after a recent trip to the mailbox yielded two magazines for the 11-year-old in my home.  The American Girl doll catalog, and Teen Vogue (both came unsolicited).  I peered over my daughter’s shoulder at the cover of Teen Vogue and pinched my lips together as I read the teaser “Bad Trip – the real deal with the new It drugs.”

Wait, what?

Wait, what?

Yikes!  I am so not ready for this, I thought.  But apparently, neither was the 11-year-old.  She brushed both magazines aside, but later asked me, “Where is Kit  [her American Girl doll], anyway?”  The next day, while gathering up laundry I saw something I hadn’t in years:

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And my heart was glad.

Most of us remember this particular stage of life, when you are both little and big, with some tinge of poignancy.  We want to reach back in time and say to ourselves:  don’t hurry!  It’s not as great as you think over here!  

Perhaps that’s why coming-of-age stories are perennial favorites.  We can relive that time through someone else’s lens, distant enough to not feel all that pain, but close enough to realize we aren’t the only speck out there, and that it’s a pretty nice beach to be on after all.