A Conversation with Mae Respicio: Books Between, Episode 72

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!

Intro

Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between –  a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.

I’m your host, Corrina Allen – 5th grade teacher currently enjoying Spring Break, a mom of two tween daughters, and part of the MGBookVillage team.  And MGBookVillage.org where you can find transcripts and interview outlines of all of our episodes and links to every book and topic we mention today.

This is episode #72 and today’s show features three novels that will get your students talking, and a conversation with Mae Respicio – author of The House That Lou Built.

Book Talk 

In this segment, I share with you three books and discuss three things to love about each. All three books today have a couple things in common – questions of identity and an element of mystery.  Two involve recovered memories, two of them have a bit of magic, and two of them include rather helpful birds. The three books featured this week are Restart by Gordan Korman, The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu, and The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast by Samantha Clark.

Restart

Let’s start with Restart.  This novel, by Gordon Korman, was one that people kept pushing me to read. Teachers, students, librarians – everyone kept saying, “But have you read 413SDvBqZNL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Restart yet??”  So how can you say no to that kind of pressure? And – they were right! First of all the premise is incredible – the school bully (Chase Ambrose) falls off his roof, gets amnesia, and forgets everything about his previous life. And doesn’t get why certain kids are terrified of him, why others treat him like some big hero, and others, well… do things like dump a cup of frozen yogurt over his head. Plus, it’s not just told from Chase’s point of view – we get to hear from lots of the other kids as Chase’s past (and present) are slowly revealed. Restart is incredibly crafted. Aside from how well this novel is paced and pieced together, here are three other things I really loved about Restart:

  1. Brendan Espinoza’s videos! Like lots of kids we know, he loves YouTube! Brendan is one of the first kids in the school to – if not accept the “new Chase” – at least offer him a little empathy. And that’s a powerful thing to do considering that Brendan was one of Chase’s biggest targets. He’s one of the video club kids and desperately wants one of his YouTube videos to go viral. So of course, he stages these increasingly over-the-top stunts to film.  It’s hard to describe a funny video in a way that also makes you, the reader, laugh and cringe – but Gordon Korman pulls it off! And I’ll never go through a car-wash again without thinking of Brendan….
  2. Mr. Solway! He’s this crotchety, hilarious, Medal-of-Honor-winning veteran living at the nursing home where Chase and his crew are serving out their community service.  And somehow he is the spark, the center, the fulcrum of the story.
  3. That it works really powerfully as a read-aloud with tons of big ideas to discuss. Restart was our most recent bedtime book for my family, and whoa did we have a ton of deep conversations. Like…. When should you forgive someone?  Is it possible to make amends for your past bad actions? And the whole situation with Joel and the video club and Shoshanna and Chase’s dad and football!

If you are looking for a great book club novel, one that will offer a lot of fodder for discussion, then Restart is a fantastic option. It’s both hilarious and deep. Which to me, is that hard-to-achieve but perfect when it happens combination.  

The Lost Girl

Next up is The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu. A story about inseparable twins Iris and Lark. Well, inseparable until 5th grade when they are each placed into different classes with 81A7k-3zFPLteachers who might not be the best fit for their distinctive personalities. Iris is analytical, outspoken, conscientious – a girl who always knows when her library books are due.  Lark is sensitive, brilliantly creative, dreamy – a girl who always knows what library books she wants to check out next. If Iris is Hermione then Lark is more Luna. But the winds of change are in the air – new school arrangements, new after-school clubs, and a new shop opening up that might not be what it seems. Here are three reasons to love The Lost Girl:

  1. The Treasure Hunters antique shop that suddenly opens up in their Minneapolis neighborhood with the slogan We Can Find Anything. Run by mysterious mashed-potato faced man, the shop is soon frequented by one of the twins. For what purpose and why I will leave you to discover.  But the shop reminded me a bit of the Stephen King novel Needful Needs.
  2. I just couldn’t get enough of the fairy tale motif of this story – from the first pages when Lark is described as knowing all the consequences for stealing in various fairy tales, to the recurring comparisons of threats as monsters and ogres, to one of my favorite scenes. It’s when Iris is attending Camp Awesome – one those Girl Power-type camps and the counselor, Abigail, has asked them all which fairy-tale character they identify with.  And it goes on, and other positive points are made about women in fairy tales, but I loved that conversation so so much.
  3. I love how for most of the book I thought I knew which girl the title was referring to. But now I am not so sure…. and I think that would make a really fabulous conversation.

Anne Ursu’s The Lost Girl is an incredible novel that is utterly deserving of all the hype that it’s received.  If you have a kid who enjoys realistic fiction with a bit of magical adventure than slide this book their way.

The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast

And the third book on my mind this week is  The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast by debut author Samantha Clark.  This novel starts with a mysterious boy washed up on a beach. Where he is, why he’s on this beach, and even who he is are all questions the boy can’t 51BKYfUj9OL._AC_SY400_answer. And so he sets off to find to find answers and discover who he is.  My husband, who is a book critic, like to say that every book is really a “journey of self-discovery” but this novel is exactly that. And brilliantly done. As the boy ventures beyond the beach, snippets of his memories return and slowly weave together a picture of what happened. It’s fantastic – and here are three reasons why:

  1. Breath-taking to read. Samantha Clark is the Picasso of personification. I got chills reading this novel!  Let me read you a few lines: 

                    The leaves in the trees purred in the slight breeze.

                    Greedy waves tugged at his ankles.

                    The sun squatted in the sky.

  1. The second thing that this book does so well is to capture that inner, critical, self-bullying voice that well have to overcome.  Throughout the the story, the boy is confronted by this voice that is less-than-encouraging. He can run away from some threats, but he can’t run away from this, so how he confronts it is a powerful moment in the book.
  2. The third aspect of this reading experience that made it so good was that your understanding of the three words in the title (boy, beast, boat) change over the course of the novel. And I won’t say more but…..ahhh!!

This novel reminded me of Orphan Island, and one other book that I love. But – if I tell you what book that is – it’s going to give away a big plot twist. But if you’d read this book, message me!

Mae Respicio – Interview Outline

This week’s interview is featuring debut author Mae Respicio! Julie Artz and I hopped on Skype to chat with her about tiny houses, her writing life and of course – her debut novel The House That Lou Built.

Take a listen…

The House That Lou Built

For our listeners who haven’t yet read The House That Lou Built, what is this story about?

What inspired you to write about a tool-toting middle schooler?

What sort of research did you do to write this book?  Did you visit Tiny Houses?

Your Writing Life

What was Hedgebrook like?

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?

What are you reading now?

Thank You!

**BONUS SPOILER SECTION: We 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 35:04 mark.

LINKS:

Mae’s website – https://www.maerespicio.com

Mae on Twitter – @maerespicio

Mae on Instagram – @maerespiciobooks

Hedgebrook

BOOKS WE CHATTED ABOUT

Harry Potter series

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (Robert C. O’Brien)

Self-Help (Lorrie Moore)

Closing

Thank you so much for joining me this week.  You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at MGBookVillage.org.   And, if you have an extra minute this week, reviews on iTunes or Stitcher are much appreciated.

Books Between is a proud member of the Lady Pod Squad and the Education Podcast Network. This network features podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit edupodcastnetwork.com

Talk with you soon!  Bye!

CorrinaAllen

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.

 

 

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Dissecting Frogs with Jarrett Lerner, Kathie MacIsaac, and Corrina Allen

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Jarrett: A wise (and funny) person once said that “humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the purely scientific mind.” And so, today, on the book birthday of my new and hopefully humorous novel, Revenge of the EngiNerds, I thought it might be fun to ignore this sage advice and do some dissecting. Thank you, Kathie and Corrina, for bravely taking part in this ill-advised endeavor!

Kathie: I appreciate the opportunity to be part of the conversation, however ill-advised it may be!

Corrina: Oh my — LOL!  A pleasure to be here!

Jarrett: Humor has always been important to me. In a way, it’s what got me hooked on books and reading in the first place. I still remember every book that my fourth-grade teacher, Mr. Lombard, read aloud to our class — novels like The BFG and There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom — and some of my most vivid memories are of listening to him read aloud. Mr. Lombard chose a wide variety of books as read alouds, but all the books contained humor to some extent. And when he came to a humorous part, Mr. Lombard would laugh… and laugh and laugh and laugh. And he had one of those infectious sorts of laughs, and so sooner or later, the whole class was laughing along with him. For me, such experiences drove home just how joyful books could be, and also how reading could be a total blast, and how it could bring people together.

I’m curious: what are your relationships with books that might labeled humorous — as kids, as adults, as a librarian and a teacher?

Kathie: I don’t remember reading a lot of humorous books as a kid. I missed many of the classics by authors like Roald Dahl when I was growing up, and so I didn’t come to humorous books until I was an adult. I had a preconceived notion that funny books equaled potty humor, slapstick comedy, or miserable adults making life hard for children, and had little depth (yeah, I know it’s harsh and unjustified, but it’s what I thought). I just didn’t think funny books were “my thing”, but I challenged myself to read 10 of them last year to see if those stereotypes held up. Boy, was I wrong! There are some absolutely wonderful humorous books out there for young readers, full of depth and tackling real topics and issues in less serious ways. Fenway and Hattie by Victoria J. Coe was the first book that convinced me that yes, I actually had a funny bone, I just need to find the kind of books that tickled it.

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I ALWAYS use funny books at preschool storytime, because I have no fear of being silly, and it helps to bring little ones of their shells.

Corrina: The humor reading that I did as a young child was mostly comic strips. I had all the Calvin & Hobbes collections, and when I visited my uncle’s house, I’d often snag all his Garfield and Far Side books and curl up in a corner reading while the adults talked (and talked…).

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Screen Shot 2019-02-18 at 10.01.48 AM.pngI never sought out what I considered “silly” books, but loved books like Superfudge that had a lot of heart and humor wrapped up in a realistic story. As a teacher, I love sharing a read aloud that will get my students (and myself!) laughing! We’ve read selections from Funny Girl, Fenway & Hattie, and picture books like Mr. Tiger Goes Wild.

Jarrett: As a book-creator and someone who works with kids, I also find that humor can be such a powerful tool both for getting kids reading and then keeping them reading.

Kathie: Books such as Captain Underpants or the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series are HUGELY popular in my library (and I can’t remember the last time I saw our copy of EngiNerds on the shelf because it’s constantly being checked out!). They are the most reread titles, and kids keep coming back to them over and over. Sometimes it’s the only books certain kids will pick up, and I tell parents to let them keep reading them. I also find humorous books are wonderful for dominant or developing readers, because they’re playful and don’t feel like as much “work” to read as some other book for kids who don’t yet love to read.

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Corrina: Absolutely! Books with a lot of humor, especially graphic novels and those with a lot of illustrations like Dog Man or Frazzled are HUGE hits with my 5th graders. And I’ve found that kids will often read a funny book in between longer, more serious books as a “palate cleanser.” And for kids who are going through a tough time, humorous titles can offer a mental break.

Jarrett: Yes! Though at the same time, humor can be so much more than a momentary laugh. Humor is, I think, a lens — a whole way of looking at the world. And it’s the authors who have that humorous lens who I tend to gravitate toward, whose work I fall in love with. And this doesn’t mean their stories are lighthearted — far from it. I find that some of the funniest books are often the darkest and most severe. Geoff Rodkey’s upcoming We’re Not From Here is a great example. It’s premise — that Earth gets blown up and the majority of humans move to Mars, where they live (barely) on borrowed time as they search for a new permanent location elsewhere in the galaxy — is perhaps as dark and dire as it gets. But it’s hilarious.

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Kathie: Sometimes, those serious topics need to be viewed through the lens of humor so that they’re not so intense, and can be more easily processed. Humor also injects hope into dark subjects. You address some serious topics in Revenge of the EngiNerds, such as feeling different from others and like you don’t belong, but the way in which you do so doesn’t feel judgmental or preachy, partly due to the tone.

Jarrett: Exactly! Humor is the HOPE tucked into darker, or even just more serious, subjects. In the EngiNerds books, I tackle some “bigger” issues surrounding friendship. If you care for someone, do their problems become your own? What do you do when a friend is set on doing something wrong? How do you navigate a disagreement that splits a group of friends? Can two people grow up without also growing apart?

I think these are all important, productive questions for kids to consider, both within the space of a book, regarding fictional characters, and also in their own lives. But there are kids out there who wouldn’t be game for such consideration and reflection without there being a hefty dose of humor involved. Though don’t get me wrong — I definitely don’t think of humor as the sugar that makes the medicine go down, or anything like that. I mostly write humor for humor’s sake, because I love it, and believe in it. Really, humor is the only way that I, as a writer, can approach bigger, tougher topics myself.

Corrina: We’re Not From Here is incredible! And some of the most loved books in my class are a mix of dark and light – like Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, Restart, Ghost, or Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus.  

Jarrett: I think the darkest situations actually contain the most comedic potential. Lots of creators know this, and use it to their advantage. Humor is the great leveler — it can quickly and effectively create common ground, and can reduce the distance we feel between ourselves and others. Think about it. Have you ever been in public, and something funny happens, and you share a laugh with a stranger? It creates a connection. A bond, however fleeting. After that shared laugh, you’re far more likely to strike up a conversation with them. You’re closer to them. Humor is disarming, both in real life and in books. It makes us — as people, as readers — open ourselves up a bit wider, feel comfortable being a little more vulnerable than before. If they’re smart, an author will hit you with something decidedly unhumorous after going for a laugh. You’ll feel it that much more. Jerry Spinelli is a master at this, and more recently, Dusti Bowling — and Corrina, I’m sure your students who are fans of Cactus will agree with that! Her books can be as hilarious as they are heartbreaking, and I think they’re heartbreaking in large part because she is so deft with her use of humor.

On another level, I think that searching for the humor (or lightness) among the darkness is a profoundly hopeful, important act — whether you do it as an author or just as a person in your everyday life.

And that, I think, is a pretty good note to close on. Thank you again, Kathie and Corrina, for joining me to talk about all this. I can’t think of a better way to spend my book birthday!

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Jarrett, Kathie, and Corrina are administrators of the MG Book Village. You can learn more about them here.