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Hi and welcome to Books Between – a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who loves middle grade books. I believe in the power of stories to help us realize that we are not alone in the world. And my goal is to help you connect kids with those incredible stories and share inspiring conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.
I am Corrina Allen – a mom of two, a teacher of 22, and gearing up for my Spring Break next week!
This is Episode #47 and today I’m sharing three books about the challenges and realities of family life, and then I’ll share with you a conversation with Jen Petro-Roy – author of P.S. I Miss You.
A few quick announcements before we get started – the April Middle Grade at Heart Book Club pick is The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson and the May pick is Every Shiny Thing by Laurie Morrison and Cordelia Jensen if you want to adjust those TBR piles so you can join us.
Also, if you are on Twitter, Matthew Winner and I will be guests on the upcoming #mglitchat Twitter Chat this Thursday, April 19th from 9-10pm. And we’ll be chatting about podcasting and whatever else you want to chat about! So I hope you can join us live this Thursday or check out #mglitchat afterward to see the transcript.
Book Talk – Three Novels Featuring the Challenges and Realities of Family Life
This week I am kicking off the show with some book talks! And the theme this week is novels featuring the challenges and realities of family life.Our three featured books this episode are Kat Greene Comes Clean by Melissa Roske, The Thing About Leftovers by C.C. Payne, and One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.
Kat Greene Comes Clean
Our first featured MG novel this week is Kat Greene Comes Clean by Melissa Roske. This is a book about a 5th grade girl, Kat, who lives in New York City with her cleaning-obsessed mother who is now a contestant on the TV game show Clean Sweep. But that’s not the only stressor in her life right now. She is still dealing with the ramifications of her parent’s divorce and her dad’s new family. Her best friend, Halle, is less-than-supportive now that she’s newly enamored with a particular boy at their school. And, Kat did not get one of the lead roles in her school’s production of her favorite book – Harriet the Spy. She gets the blah role of the boy in the purple socks. Here are three things to love about Kat Greene Comes Clean:
- The complicated crush situation in this book. I won’t reveal the details because it’s a bit of a spoiler, but Kat’s best friend has an intense crush on this boy, Michael McGraw, and talks about every facet of his life constantly. And that situation takes an unexpected and awkward detour. Well, unexpected for Halle and Kat. As a teacher, I’ve seen this play out like this a bunch of times….. yikes!
- How this book portrays what it’s like dealing with a family member who has OCD. Kat’s mom was laid off from her job at a magazine, went through a divorce, and her OCD has manifested itself more and more through her obsessive cleaning. I appreciated that this book acknowledged that these anxieties and disorders are often more than just one thing. And the multiple layers of impact on everyone around them. Kat’s mom scrubs the floor with an electric toothbrush, so Kat has to constantly worry about her wrath if there are crumbs anywhere. Her mom washes her hands in a very precise way over and over again, so Kat has to wait while she finishes and her mom’s attention is always diverted to the next thing she has that compulsion to clean. Even in public, her mother wipes down the cans at the grocery store before putting them in her cart, which embarasses Kat terribly! But then she starts throwing away Kat’s things from her bedroom and the impact on Kat is beyond just that embarrassment. At one point later in the novel when things have come to a head, her mother says, “I felt out of control and incredibly anxious. So I shut down.”
- Kat’s school psychologist – Olympia Rabinowitz. I just loved her gentle way of slowly helping Kat release herself that her mother had a problem. Early on, Olympia comes to her classroom for something like a sharing circle and later Kat writes her an email about her mom. And then deletes it. I thought that was such a truthful moment – because especially for children, sometimes even acknowledging a problem is overwhelming because the consequence of telling is often also bad. There’s a real chance that Kat could have to leave her mom and go live with her dad and his new wife and son – which she does NOT want to do! And like a lot of kids, she has an aversion to airing her family’s “dirty laundry.” Plus – I loved Olympia because has jelly beans in her office and that’s always a plus.
If you have a kid who likes Harriet the Spy or Kharma Khullar’s Mustache or Finding Perfect, then Melissa Roske’s Kat Green Comes Clean is a great book to introduce them to next.
The Thing About Leftovers
A book that I finally got a chance to read last week is The Thing About Leftovers by C.C. Payne. This novel is about 6th grader Elizabeth “Fizzy” Russo who is struggling to navigate changing family dynamics in the aftermath of her parents’ divorce. And figuring out how to make friends at her swanky new school. The only two things that consistently provide stability and help her cope are cooking and her Aunt Liz, who helps Fizzy register for the prestigious Southern Living Cook-off and works with her to test out tons of recipes after school. I loved every bit of this book from the first to the very last page. But, just as a small sample, here are three things to love about C.C. Payne’s The Thing About Leftovers:
- Have I mentioned that I am a sucker for books featuring food? Oh my gosh – this book had me DROOLING over all the recipes that Fizzy tries out. Like lasagna and apple tart and this intriguing German dessert called Eis and Heiss (meaning ice and hot) which is a mix of cold ice cream and hot fruit sauce. And then later, when she finds out that her mom’s boyfriend, Keene, likes her baking, she makes cake after cake – pineapple upside down and red velvet and this gorgeous purple cake with purple flowers all over it…ahhh. Oh – and this wonderful thing called Benedictine that Fizzy’s Aunt Liz makes for her when she comes over. It’s this wonderful-sounding cucumber and cream cheese spread. I NEED to try this!
- All the analogies and descriptions related to food. As Jarrett Lerner mentioned on a recent episode, a fabulous analogy can make your writing just sparkle. And boy does Payne fill her writing with sparkling moments. Like, “In a voice so sugary I could practically feel a cavity coming on.” or “And if Mom was starting fresh, then that made me a kind of leftover, didn’t it?”, “Here’s the thing about leftovers: Nobody is ever excited about them; they’re just something you have to deal with.” and here’s one of my favorites from page 190.
- Her friendships with Zach and Miyoko. Zack is a boy who Fizzy’s mom describes as “slick” but who you realize is coping with his own “stuff” by telling adults what they want to hear – and then doing what he wants to do. And then Miyoko – who does exactly what the perhaps over-protective adults in her life want her to – from getting straight A’s to going to bed at 10 – even when she’s having a sleepover! But who stands up for things when it really matters. I really enjoyed Fizzy and Miyoko and Zach‘s supportive friendship with each other.
C.C. Payne’s The Things About Leftovers is so well-written – a bittersweet mix of heartbreaking and heartfelt and humourous, and with an ending that is both honest and hopeful. As a kid who went through some very similar family dynamics, I think this book is a must-have for your collection. And I’m really looking forward to seeing more from C.C. Payne!
One for the Murphys
Our third book featured this week is One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. This is one of those books that got past me and when some friends found out I hadn’t read it yet they basically staged an intervention and forced me to! And oh am I glad they did!! They were so right – this book is incredible! So for the few of you who haven’t read it yet (it seems like I was the last one!), One for the Murphys is about 12 year-old Carley who grew up in Las Vegas with her fun-loving but neglectful mother. She’s a tough kid. But when a violent incident with her step-father leads to Carley’s placement in foster care with the Murphys, it gets harder for Carley to convince herself that she is not worthy of their love. Here are three things to love about One for the Murphys:
- The slow, skillful reveal about Carley’s previous life and what happened to land her in foster care. Hunt does not come right out and tell you, but drops a trail of memories. Like learning that Carley used to “go shopping” for her family by diving into Goodwill dumpsters while her mom played lookout. Or when she asks Mrs. Murphy if the lasagna she has planned for dinner is Stouffers or the store brand. Or when she’s shocked that Mrs. Murphy can calm herself down, because her own mother could never do that. Or the times Carley reveals she had to sleep in the bathtub… It just reminds us that a lot of kids – the angry ones, the quiet ones – have those types of stories that if we knew them, would explain so much.
- Mrs. Murphy! This woman, who has her own stories, is incredible at understanding Carley and being patient with her as the family adjusts. There’s this powerful scene at a restaurant after Mrs. Murphy has just taken Carley clothes shopping and Carley, probably feeling overwhelmed, starts lashing out at the server, at the food, at her, at herself. Let me read you this one section from page 25.
- All the little things. I can’t pin it down to just one, but… the giraffe stuffed animal, and Tori’s love of the musical Wicked, and her razzing Mr. Murphy about the Red Sox, and all the Murphy boys – Daniel, and Adam, and especially little Michael Eric. And the sign in Carley’s bedroom… The last three chapters of this book – whoa. Prepare to finish this novel in a location where you can cry. And yes, it’s a tear-jerker at the end, but the tears are about the hope as much as they are about the other things that happen. So please don’t let the fact that you might cry dissuade you from reading this book! It’s… earned them. I almost feel like, Carley (and the kids like Carley) deserved that emotion at the end.
One for the Murphys is for all the Carley’s in the world, and for all the kids and adults who need a way to see past the hardened front of children like Carley.
If you want to instantly boost the quality of connections your kids can find in your classroom library or your collection, get these three books! They each offer much-needed perspectives for families experiencing divorce, mental illness, the foster care system, and a lot more and told with warmth and lightness and humor!
Jen Petro-Roy – Interview Outline
Our special guest this week is Jen Petro-Roy, author of P.S. I Miss You. We discuss the role of sensitivity readers, the challenges of writing a novel told all in letters, her favorite board game, and of course – her debut novel!
Take a listen…
P.S. I MISS YOU
For our listeners who haven’t yet read P.S. I Miss You, what is this story about?
One of the things I really appreciated about this story was that it deals with issues that many, many kids are experiencing – like an older sibling’s pregnancy, religious questioning, and Evie slowly starting to realize she may have romantic feelings for her friend, June. I love that kids have your age-appropriate story so they can either see themselves reflected in the characters (and feel like they are not alone) or start to develop some awareness of what their peers are going through.
What was your thought process like as you were including those elements of your story?
I saw you mention that you used a sensitivity reader. I am so curious about that process – can you tell us what that was like, how you connected with them, and how their advice may have enhanced your story?
On a personal note – I just want to thank you soo much for including a positive portrayal of an unapologetically atheist family. I was formerly very Catholic but we are now a non-religious family and it was so refreshing to FINALLY see a character like June who is happy, well-adjusted, and also non-religious. … So, thank you!!
Even though there are some weightier themes, your novel includes such laughter and light – and the references to Fish in a Tree, and Harry Potter, and Beauty & the Beast and the movie Grease…
How did you balance those aspects of Evie’s life?
So…. I want to talk about the ending. But… I don’t want to reveal the ending!
NOTE: Jen and I discussed the ending of the novel, and if you’d like to hear that conversation, I moved that part of the recording to after the end credits of today’s episode at the 45:35 mark.
YOUR WRITING LIFE
As a novel told all in letters – what kind of challenges did that format create for you?
What are you working on now?
YOUR READING LIFE
One of the goals of this podcast is to help educators and librarians inspire kids to read more and connect them with amazing books.
Did you have a special teacher or librarian in your life who helped you grow into a reader?
You’ve said that reading The Babysitters Club as a child made you into the reader and writer you are today….
Are you more Kristy, MaryAnne, Claudia, or Stacey?
What are you reading now?
Jen Petro Roy’s gorgeous website – https://www.jenpetroroy.com
Danika Corrall’s website – https://www.danikacorrall.com/work
Books & Authors We Chatted About:
The Baby-Sitters Club (Ann M. Martin)
The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade (Jordan Sonnenblick)
Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie (Jordan Sonnenblick)
Not If I Save You First (Ally Carter)
Gallagher Girls (Ally Carter)
Alright, that wraps up our show this week!
If you have a question about how to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love or a suggestion about a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at email@example.com or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.
Books Between is a proud member of the Education Podcast Network. This network features podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit edupodcastnetwork.com
Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at MGBookVillage.org. And, if you are liking the show, please leave us some love on iTunes or Stitcher so others can discover us as well.
Thanks and see you soon! Bye!
Corrina Allen is a 5th grade teacher in Central New York and mom of two energetic tween girls. She is passionate about helping kids discover who they are as readers.
Corrina is the host of Books Between – a podcast to help teachers, parents, and librarians connect children between 8 and 12 to books they’ll love.
Find her on Twitter at @corrinaaallen or Instagram at @Corrina_Allen.