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Hey 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 of two girls, a teacher of 5th graders, and starting to have my annual back-to-school nightmares again. Last night it was that I had no clue what my schedule was, I had no plans prepared and was just winging it the entire first day! And – the worst part? I got to the end of the day and…FORGOT to include a read aloud!!! *shudder*
This is episode #58 and today I am giving you a quick first impression of three new books, and sharing a conversation with Cindy Baldwin – author of Where the Watermelons Grow.
A quick update on our Middle Grade at Heart Book Club schedule. The September pick is The House That Lou Built. And in October we are reading The Three Rules of Everyday Magic and The Hotel Between by Sean Easley is our November pick.
And remember to set yourself a reminder for Monday nights at 9pm EST so you don’t miss the #MGBookChat Twitter chat! We’ve got some really interesting topics coming up like ending gendered labels, the importance of immigrant stories, and how teachers and public librarians can support each other.
First up this week is Book Bites – where I’ll give you a quick taste of a few upcoming books. And share first lines and first impressions from reading the first chapter. This week I am previewing The Right Hook of Devin Velma by Jake Burt, The Lighthouse Between the Worlds by Melanie Crowder, and Zora & Me: The Cursed Ground by T.R. Simon.
The Right Hook of Devin Velma
The first novel I want to talk about is The Right Hook of Devin Velma by Jake Burt, author of Greetings from Witness Protection. This novel is about Addison Gerhardt and his best friend, Devin Velma, who is trying to become a social media sensation by pulling a risky stunt at a nationally televised pro basketball game. Devin seems to have some secret reasons for doing something so dangerous, and Addison wants to help his friend but his introversion and anxiety often cause him to freeze up when he’s put on the spot.
Chapter One: Narrowed Down
“I finally figured out why my best friend Devin punched me in the face. At first I thought it was because I saved his life, but that wasn’t it. For awhile, I blamed my freezing, only it wasn’t that either. It wasn’t even Twitter, the Velma Curse, that stupid dishwasher, or the Golden State Warriors. Nope. It was the Double-Barreled Monkey Bar Backflip of Doom.”
First impressions: I love this book! And could not stop reading at just that one short chapter. The banter between the two boys is clever and I’m intrigued by the possibility of this book exploring the power and pressures of social media on kids. Twitter is a space where I spend some time but I do have concerns about that. And I’m curious about how Addison’s anxiety plays a part in the plot later on. The Right Hook of Devin Velma is out October 2nd and is definitely one I want to order for my classroom.
The Lighthouse Between the Worlds
The second novel I’m featuring today is by Melanie Crowder – author of Three Pennies – a book from a couple years ago that I just loved. This novel – The Lighthouse Between the Worlds is about a young boy named Griffin who lives with his father on the coast of Oregon where they tend to their lighthouse. Every day they follow the same routine – a walk on the beach, placing a new piece of sea glass on his mother’s grave, and learning how to cast prisms in his father’s glassmaking studio. Things are routine. Until…one day a group of mysterious strangers appears and Griffin discovers that the lighthouse contains a portal to other worlds and that his father has far more secrets that he ever realized.
Chapter 1: The Apprentice Glassmaker
“The day began normally enough, for a Tuesday. Griffin and his father, Philip Fen, ate breakfast (juice and apple-butter toast for one, coffee and oatmeal for the other). They buttoned up their thickest flannel shirts and stepped out into the gray morning. Mornings are almost always gray on the Oregon coast. But that’s what makes the green of the mosses and the ferns and the scraggly trees so very green.”
First impressions: My first thoughts on reading the first chapter were how… atmospheric and lush the language is. And the fact that the mother’s grave has no headstone but only a suncatcher was both beautiful and also sent tingles up my spine – I’m sensing something…off there. This novel is out on October 23rd – the perfect time to read something with a blend of mystery and fantasy.
Zora & Me: The Cursed Ground
And book number 3 – Zora & Me: The Cursed Ground by T.R. Simon – sequel to the award-winning Zora & Me – a fictionalized account of the early life of author and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston. Like the first book, this novel is set in a small Southern town during the very early 20th century of the Jim Crow era, and this book is about Zora and her best friend, Carrie who uncover a tragic mystery centered around an enslaved girl named Lucia.
“There are two kinds of memory. One is the ordinary kind, rooted in things that happened, people you knew, and places you went…..”
First impressions: I am intrigued – and so fascinated by that concept of the memory of the community and how it impacts all of us in subtle ways we don’t even fully realize. The first chapter launches us into a mystery with the adventurous Zora pulling her friend out into the night into trouble against her friend’s better judgement. It’s so good – and I loved Simon’s beautiful use of metaphor that adds such zing to the language. So be on the lookout for Zora & Me: The Cursed Ground on September 11th. And if you are like me and haven’t yet read the first novel yet, add that one to your list, too!
Cindy Baldwin – Interview Outline
Our special guest this week is Cindy Baldwin – debut author of the acclaimed Where the Watermelons Grow. We discuss honey, the importance of accurate depictions of disability in children’s literature, Pitch Wars, the Anne of Green Gables adaptation on Netflix, and of course her novel! And joining me this week to chat with Cindy is one of the founders of the MG at Heart Book Club, and Cindy’s Pitch Wars partner, Amanda Rawson Hill.
Take a listen…
Where the Watermelons Grow
Your debut middle grade novel, Where the Watermelons Grow, was just released this past month…
CA: For our listeners who have not yet read the novel, can you tell us a bit about it?
CA: Would you mind reading a favorite passage?
AH: I love how you slip into this southern accent when you read. I think every time you do it, people are surprised. But those who know you aren’t. What’s your history with the setting of this book?
CA: I know that your novel is mostly associated with watermelon, but it’s really more about honey! Is watermelon honey a real thing?
CA: Cindy – I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, BUT – reading your book made me feel sooooo hot and sweaty!
**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 42:27 mark.
CA: How is the final version of the novel different from earlier drafts?
AH: While the book is about Schizophrenia, you are not Schizophrenic yourself. And yet, your own personal experience with disability helped shape this narrative. How?
Your Writing Life
AH: For those who don’t know, Cindy has Cystic Fibrosis which has her spending a lot of time every day doing breathing treatments and affects her energy levels. On top of that, you have this wonderful spitfire of a child, who Della’s little sister is based on. And if that’s not enough, I know that in the past year you have also suffered from a lot of pain while writing. Yet, you just finished another novel (and it’s beautiful by the way, I’m reading it now.) Talk to us about some of your strategies for getting the writing done even with all these things in your life that make it a bit difficult.
CA: What are you working on now?
CA: While I have both of you here, I have a writer related question to ask. On Twitter, I keep seeing this thing called PitchWars. What IS that?
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. CA: Did you have a special teacher or librarian who helped foster your reading life as a child? And if so, what did they do that made such a difference?
AH: I’d love advice on reading aloud when you have a precocious child, like Kate.
CA: So Cindy – I’ve gathered that you are a fan of Anne of Green Gables. What do you think of Anne with an E adaptation on Netflix?
CA: What have you been reading lately?
Cindy’s website – http://cindybaldwinbooks.com
Amanda’s website – https://amandarawsonhill.com
PitchWars website – https://pitchwars.org
Cindy & Amanda’s blog hop PitchWars post – http://blog.cindybaldwinbooks.com/2018/08/2018-pitch-wars.html
Pragmatic Mom website – https://www.pragmaticmom.com/booklists/
What We Do All Day website – https://www.whatdowedoallday.com/category/books/
Books & Authors We Chatted About:
Horton Hears a Who (Dr. Seuss)
Clementine series (Sara Pennypacker)
Anna Hibiscus (Atinuke)
Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)
The Anne of Green Gables graphic novel (Mariah Marsden)
Race to the Bottom of the Sea (Lindsay Eager)
Amal Unbound (Aisha Saeed)
Mostly the Honest Truth (Jody J. Little)
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.
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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.