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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.
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.
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 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:
- 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….
- 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.
- 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 teachers 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
**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.
Mae’s website – https://www.maerespicio.com
Mae on Twitter – @maerespicio
Mae on Instagram – @maerespiciobooks
BOOKS WE CHATTED ABOUT
Harry Potter series
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (Robert C. O’Brien)
Self-Help (Lorrie Moore)
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!
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.