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Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between – a podcast for teachers, librarians, parents, and anyone who loves middle grade books! My goal is to help you connect kids between 8-12 with fantastic reads and share inspiring conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.
I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a mom for the past 11 years, a teacher for the past 17 years, and a fan of flavored seltzer for the past two months. Either I have been oblivious to it or suddenly there is a plethora of sparkling waters and seltzer available everywhere! Including some tasty hard seltzers for those inclined. And during a hot, sticky summer – a frigid, fizzy can of black cherry seltzer poured over a full glass of ice is just about the best thing ever.!
This is episode #57 and today I am giving you a quick first impression of three new books, and sharing a conversation with Paula Chase – author of So Done.
One super quick announcement – set yourself a reminder for Monday nights at 9pm EST so you never miss the #MGBookChat Twitter chat! We have some really great topics coming up like creating a classroom community through books, ending gendered labels, and how teachers and public librarians can support each other.
First up is a brand new segment I am calling Book Bites – where I will give you a quick sampling of a few books. And share first lines and first impressions from reading the first chapter. This week I am previewing The Phantom Tower by Keir Graff, The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden by Karina Yan Glaser, and Scream Site by Justina Ireland.
The Phantom Tower
The first novel I want to talk about is The Phantom Tower by Keir Graff. You may know him from his other middle grade novel The Matchstick Castle. This book is described as magic, mischief, and mystery colliding in a thrilling adventure. It’s about 12 year old identical twin brothers who move into a mysterious apartment building and discover a portal to a parallel dimension.
“The first time I saw Brunhild Towers was the day we moved in. Even though it wasn’t that long ago, I saw a lot of things differently back then, I thought old people were boring. I thought learning history was a good way to fall asleep. I thought dying was simple. You probably noticed I said Towers, not Tower. Pay attention and I’ll explain everything.”
First impressions: The first thing I noticed when I opened the pages – a map! The first chapter was fast-paced and fun but didn’t make you feel lost. You definitely get enough background info to help orient you to the characters and the tone with lots of touches of humor. The story is written in 1st person and told by one of the twins – Colm. The first chapter reminded me a bit of Peculiar Incident on Shady Street, so if you have kids who like that novel or The Explorers or The Mysterious Benedict Society, The Phantom Tower would be a good book to introduce them to next.
The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden
Next up is the sequel to a beloved middle grade novel – Karina Yan Glaser’s The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden. In this story – the Vanderbeeker kids band together to do something nice for their upstairs neighbors (Miss Josie & Mr. Jeet) who are going through a tough time. And in classic Vanderbeeker fashion, the five kids make an elaborate plan to convert the abandoned (and possibly haunted) lot next to the church into the gorgeous community garden that Miss Josie has always wanted.
“This is the most boring summer in the whole history of the world,” nine year-old Oliver Vanderbeeker announced. He was wearing basketball shorts and a faded blue T-shirt, and his hair was sticking out in every direction.”
First impressions: Well – Oliver doesn’t stay bored for long! And oh how I loved jumping back into the sweet Vanderbeeker banter! The premise of this novel reminds me a bit of the book Seedfolks, and I’m curious how they solve the water problem here…. Along with all the other obstacles I am sure they will encounter! I love the Vanderbeekers, and I know so many of you do as well – and apparently we are not alone. Because Amy Poehler’s production company has optioned the rights to The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street! Ahhhh! And I know, I know – that doesn’t mean it’s going to hit the screen next year, but I’m still so excited and so happy for Karina. If you want to hear her talk about the first Vanderbeekers novel, check out episode 46.
And finally, I wanted to check out Scream Site by Justina Ireland. She’s the author of the YA novel Dread Nation among other books. This novel features 14 year-old Sabrina Sebastian who wants to be an investigative reporter so she’s digging into this popular website where people post scary videos hoping to go viral. And she starts to think that maybe some of the videos are real – and then someone very close to her goes missing.
“So, what do you think? Should I go with ‘Taco Tuesday is a Day Made of Lies’ or ‘Football Team Organizes Book Drive for Local Library’? Those are my two best stories, and I’ve narrowed it down to them. I think. I’m actually not sure.” Sabrina Sebastian leaned back in her chair and waited for her best friend, Evenlyn Chao, to respond.”
First impressions: Number one – the cover is awesome. It’s a gorgeous blue with the shadows of trees looming over a young girl’s silhouette as she faces what looks like an abandoned ferris wheel lit from behind by a full moon. Already – I’m drawn in. And the first chapter leads me to think that there is going to be some interesting and timely discussion about social media and journalism. Scream Site is marketed as YA, but I’ve read in several places that it’s really geared toward more of an upper middle grade audience. Probably wouldn’t include it in my 5th grade classroom, but if you have strong readers in 6th grade and up – this would be a great book for kids who like mysteries and kids who are drawn to internet rumors and hoaxes and those paranormal YouTube videos.
Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden will be headed our way September 25th.
Paula Chase – Interview Outline
Our special guest today is author Paula Chase. Her debut middle grade novel, So Done, comes out tomorrow. It’s about best friends Tai and Mila who are somewhat awkwardly back together after a summer spent apart from each other. And each is wondering if they can salvage their friendship from the secrets and pressures of middle school and crushes and tryouts and memories that have started to loom in their lives. I loved getting a chance to chat with Paula about her novel, being a dance mom, and the importance of books with authentic stories and authentic voices.
Take a listen…
Your middle grade debut, So Done, is coming out tomorrow!
For our listeners who have not yet read the novel, can you tell us a bit about it?
Would you mind reading a favorite passage?
From the very first pages, I had a huge smile on my face because I was so happy to be reading a book that sounds like some of my students when they are talking to each other. You have this special knack for voice – whatever that “it” is – you’ve got it!
What is your secret for for capturing those voices?
I think I heard you mention that there was some back and forth with your editor about the vocabulary you used in the novel.
Can you talk a little about that?
One of things that I loved about So Done were scenes about dance. I’ve heard you mention that your daughter is a dancer.
How much did you draw on her experiences to write this story?
Nicknames (as opposed to “government names”) are an important part of the story.
Did you have a nickname?
Are you more like Tai or more like Mila?
**BONUS SPOILER SECTION: Paula and I discuss 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 40:14 mark.
Your Writing Life
Your previous series was young adult.
Did you decide from the outset that So Done would be middle grade or did it evolve in that direction?
If you can talk about it….. what are you working on now?
Your Reading Life
One of the goals of this podcast is to help educators and librarians and parents inspire kids to read more and connect them with amazing books. Did you have a special teacher or librarian who helped foster your reading life as a child?
What were some of your most influential reads as a child?
So – what ARE your thoughts about “dessert” books?
What have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?
Paula’s website – http://paulachasehyman.com
Paula on Twitter
Books & Authors We Chatted About:
Dread Nation (Justina Ireland)
The Belles (Dhonielle Clayton)
Ghost Boys (Jewell Parker Rhodes)
Breakout (Kate Messner)
Parker Inheritance (Varian Johnson)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.